Addressing the Challenges Posed by an Influx of New Workforce and Apprenticeship Funding

Mentor with apprentices in workshop

Federal and state funding for infrastructure, workforce and economic development, and apprenticeship expansion are flowing into states and regional and local entities. These funds are aimed at the needs of industry, creating equitable pathways to well-paying work, and advancing the workforce development goals of federal and state government agencies.

Through AIR’s work on the State Apprenticeship Expansion Technical Assistance Project, in partnership with the U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of Apprenticeship, we have seen that many states are taking advantage of these funding opportunities to focus on developing a diverse workforce and creating quality jobs, particularly through registered apprenticeship programs. At the same time, this new funding brings challenges around coordination and ensuring it works well with existing workforce development efforts. Here we describe two of the primary challenges that come with this new funding and promising approaches to address them.

Challenge: Lack of Coordination and Competing Funding Streams

Across the U.S., communities and organizations often compete against one another to obtain workforce funding, particularly in the absence of clear state and regional strategies and intentional partnerships. Even after a state and/or local entities obtain funding, there can be competing interests, particularly around deciding how to support individual apprentices, workforce participants, and businesses. In addition, a variety of partners within a state and/or locality may need to demonstrate outcomes on specific measures related to their individual grant services and requirements, creating the potential for competition and confusion about who can claim participant successes.

Solution: Forming Partnerships and Aligning Funding

When individual partners work together to establish strategies for apprenticeship expansion and workforce development, they can better align funding and improve the chances of meeting the overall workforce development needs of a state or region.

Unified approaches can be more strategic and successful, both when applying for grant opportunities and implementing the efforts that funding is intended to support. When individual partners work together to establish strategies for apprenticeship expansion and workforce development, they can better align funding and improve the chances of meeting the overall workforce development needs of a state or region. Here are two examples of how states have approached this challenge:

  • Apprenticeship Idaho Coalition: The state of Idaho received more than $12.6 million from multiple federal grant opportunities to support apprenticeship expansion. Leaders from the Idaho Department of Labor, the Idaho Workforce Development Council, and the Idaho Division of Career and Technical Education formed the Apprenticeship Idaho Coalition, which includes several apprenticeship system partners. The coalition has established strong interagency coordination practices, developed a unified brand for registered apprenticeship in the state, and coordinated business engagement across their programs. AIR assisted the coalition in coordinating some of these efforts, which have led to streamlined registration processes and reduced program approval timelines, an increase in the use of industry intermediaries in growing industries, and the successful registration of 251 new skilled trades programs. Read more about the coalition in this case study, which identifies collaborative opportunities to leverage multiple funding streams to support employers and apprentices more holistically.
  • EmployIndy: EmployIndy is working with AIR to establish a Regional Apprenticeship Hub for Marion County and the greater Indianapolis region in order to better align competing strategies and funding sources and strengthen their approach to expanding registered apprenticeship. AIR worked with EmployIndy to assess the current landscape, identifying challenges and needs across the region; lead partners to collectively decide on potential solutions; select strategies; and clearly outline a path forward for coordinating the regional expansion of apprenticeship efforts in Marion County. AIR continues to work with the EmployIndy team to establish the Regional Hub Strategic Action Plan and provide technical assistance to apprenticeship intermediaries and apprenticeship program sponsors as part of the overall strategy.

Challenge: Siloed Approaches to Workforce and Education

Federal and state funding to expand apprenticeship programs can have the most impact if states and localities make an effort to align new funding and initiatives with other workforce and education systems and programming. Without such coordination, various programs and initiatives may be reaching out to the same employers with different approaches toward the same goals, causing confusion and limiting opportunities to collectively leverage resources to support registered apprenticeship and other talent development strategies.

Solution: Aligning Apprenticeship Efforts to Career Pathway, Sector Strategy, and Job Quality Initiatives

Aligning apprenticeship efforts with other key state and regional strategies—like career technical education programming, sector strategy and career pathway efforts, and other workforce programming—can streamline the delivery of services, maximize funding streams, and lead to the creation of registered apprenticeship programs and diverse pipelines for in-demand careers and promote job quality efforts. Here are two examples of this:

  • Massachusetts Executive Office of Labor and Workforce Development: AIR helped the department create a set of career pathway maps that integrate apprenticeship opportunities for several career fields, including health care, IT, advanced manufacturing, and construction. The goals were to provide clear information on the education, training, and credential requirements associated with key occupations in the pathways, and enhance the integration and use of registered apprenticeship as a key workforce tool in the broader workforce development and education systems. Clear career pathway resources like these can help job seekers and those influencing them (e.g., family members, case workers, and counselors) make decisions about career opportunities, advancement potential, and apprenticeship opportunities for in-demand, high-wage occupations with potential for further growth.
  • SA WORX: In the Greater San Antonio Region, SA WORX—the workforce arm of regional economic development organization greater:SATX—and AIR are launching and implementing five U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation Talent Pipeline Management® Employer collaboratives. These employer-led sector strategy efforts are leveraged by partners in the region to influence key federally funded apprenticeship grant efforts, including Alamo Colleges District implementation of an Apprenticeship Closing the Skills Gap grant, and City of San Antonio implementation of an Apprenticeship Building America grant. Alignment of several workforce and education entities contributes to improved talent development, apprenticeship, and pipeline growth strategies across the country’s 7th largest city and its neighboring communities.

New Funding, New Opportunities for Strategy Alignment

Managing multiple funding streams and initiatives can present challenges. However, state, local, and regional workforce, economic development, and education entities are finding that by coordinating their approaches to apprenticeship expansion, they can be successful in leveraging investments to reach shared goals and better serve workers, employers, and communities. Working together, AIR and our client partners are aligning workforce and economic development priorities, braiding multiple funding sources, and maximizing impact to increase opportunities for successful apprenticeship expansion and talent development.