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Expansion of apprenticeships in Virginia raises question: What’s an apprenticeship?

Electrician is just one occupation of around 900 the U.S. Department of Labor has identified as fitting for the registered apprenticeship program.Times-Mirror/File photo
Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe signed an order Oct. 6 expanding registered apprenticeships in the state, hoping to encourage a skilled workforce, decrease employee turnover and up workers’ loyalty to their company.

The term apprenticeship hearkens back to the Middle Ages career structure; apprentices learned skilled trades under the tutelage of a master craftsman in a guild.

Apprenticeships haven’t changed much in design: on-the-job training under a supervisor or supervisory group, most often found in construction and other skilled trades. Engineering, electricians and other similar fields require apprenticeship-like programs for licensing.

But the training program may be broadening. In Loudoun, education has picked up on the training mechanism, partnering with businesses to give students early, hands-on experience in a field of interest, particularly in the science, technology, engineering and math fields. Loudoun County Public Schools have taken the educational model along with its encouragement of job shadowing.

The Academy of Science in Sterling and Leesburg’s Monroe Tech Center are two offerings for students interested in the sciences.Though not apprenticeships, the schools emulate the traditional apprenticeship model.

Expectations are changing for traditional education. Skilled trade schools have popped up in the county, a switch from the traditional model of high school flowing into a four-year institution.

Similar to Monroe Tech and the Academy of Science, SkillsUSA, which headquarters in Leesburg, partners high school and college students with teachers and representatives in the science and tech fields. The difference is in the vision. SkillsUSA is more focused on career preparation right out of the gate, whereas other school programs for younger participants are more supplemental, allowing students to explore passions and possibilities.

Internships aren’t the same as an apprenticeship. The internship doesn’t last as long, generally pays less and doesn’t guarantee a job after its end. Apprenticeships can last anywhere from one to six years.

Some other characteristics? Apprenticeships are immediate jobs sponsored by a company or business with incremental pay increases as skills develop.

Many programs look similar, but a U.S. defined apprenticeship is one that is registered with the federal government.

Compared to other countries and history, apprenticeships in the U.S. aren’t where they could be.

In 2014, Virginia had 2,220 active apprenticeship programs and 15,649 active apprentices, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. In the U.S. as a whole, the number of apprenticeships has increased from 375,424 in fiscal year 2013’s fourth quarter to 430,355 in fiscal 2015’s third quarter.

The idea behind the governor-signed Executive Order No. 49 is to expand those registered apprenticeships in the state.

By 2022, around 500,000 new jobs will be created in the state and a need for more than 930,000 workers to replace the state’s retiring workforce, according to the order. As much as 65 percent of those jobs are anticipated skilled trade jobs. Hence the need, it states, for more apprenticeships.

“Apprenticeships are a proven tool for connecting people who are seeking work with employers offering good-paying and rewarding positions to individuals with the right skills,” said McAuliffe in a statement. “This Executive Order will make Virginia a leader in adopting registered apprenticeships in both the public and private sectors so that we can train the workforce we need to help us build a new Virginia economy.”

That’s the hope, anyway.

The short version: the order offers fiscal incentives supporting apprentice related training to expand the number of enrolled state agencies in the registered apprenticeship program and provide further incentives for private sector companies.

The longer version: By Jan. 1, the Virginia Department of Labor and Industry and the Virginia Department of Human Resource Management will have guidelines and applications in place for state agencies to register.

By 2016, up to $120,000 will be available through the Virginia Department of Labor for state agencies to support apprentice instruction.

Also by 2016, private sector companies will have $280,000 available to pull from for its apprentice training.

Policies and procedures will be put in place by Jan. 1 making it possible for businesses in the private sector to get more federal or state funding.

The executive order was effective Oct. 6.


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