Apprenticeships are booming in Missouri. As Missouri businesses continue to search for the skilled workforce they need, more organizations are turning to this time tested — yet suddenly cutting-edge — training tool.
Although apprenticeships are commonly associated with skilled trades like construction, today’s apprenticeships exist in nearly every industry — including information technology, manufacturing, health care and energy.
For workers, apprenticeship can serve as the bridge between school and a profitable career — or as a streamlined pathway to advancement if seeking a career change. Apprentices earn while they learn, reducing or eliminating student debt altogether. They receive hands-on training from seasoned industry professionals and career-relevant classroom time, all in one program.
Likewise, employers benefit from developing a broader and more diversified talent pool, ensuring that institutional knowledge is passed down before experienced workers retire and reducing recruiting and turnover costs.
Research shows about 94 percent of workers retain employment after completing an apprenticeship program, earning an average salary of $70,000 which leads to a $300,000 lifetime earning advantage over non-apprentices.
Missouri is considered a leading state in the advancement of today’s modern apprenticeship models. In 2019, our state ranked second in the nation for new apprenticeships, and currently there are nearly 14,000 apprentices in Missouri.
And thanks to several developments, Missouri continues to lead in apprenticeships.
Most recently, the Missouri Chamber Foundation was awarded a $6 million U.S. Dept. of Labor grant to train 5,300 new technology industry apprentices over the next four years. These apprenticeships will address critical needs in computer programming, network support, cybersecurity and other shortage areas.
According to the Missouri Chamber Foundation’s Technology 2030 Report, Missouri is projected to be among the top 10 states in tech job growth over the next five years. In order to meet the demand, Missouri needs to be supporting innovative ways to help employers find the talented workers they need.
“We know that businesses across the state are struggling with workforce right now. Today’s talent gap is especially concerning for businesses in our state’s fast-growing technology industry. We need to do everything we can to make sure our state is poised to take advantage of the influx of technology jobs that are being created in Missouri,” said Daniel P. Mehan, Missouri Chamber president and CEO. “This progress could not have come at a better time.”
U.S. Sen. Roy Blunt of Missouri was instrumental in securing the apprenticeship funding. He has been a strong supporter of growing the apprenticeship model.
During his time working on this issue, Blunt said he had met several apprentices who only discovered the apprenticeship track later in their careers after working a series of jobs with little or no upward mobility.
“Eventually they wound up in this apprenticeship program. But to get there, most of them had lost about 10 years,” said Blunt.
He refers to this trend as “the lost decade.”
“What do we do to create that connection earlier for young people to know what they’d like to do? And in the case of an apprenticeship program, actually get out and do it?” Blunt said.
Several important developments are helping Missouri answer that question and continue to set the pace for the country in apprenticeships.
One big change was establishing Industry-Recognized Apprenticeship Programs, or IRAPs. IRAPs include certifications that are transferrable from employer to employer, credentials which are particularly valuable for workers. Missouri is one of only four states that recognize IRAPs, thanks to House Bill 2046 sponsored by Rep. Derek Grier and passed by state lawmakers in 2019.
“It’s a huge boon for industry in Missouri that we can now work with not just traditional registered apprenticeships, but we now can ensure the integrity and quality of Industry Recognized Apprenticeships and help design programs that are supportive of employers,” said Dr. Mardy Leathers, director of the Missouri Division of Workforce Development.
That momentum continues with the newly-launched Missouri Apprentice Connect, a website the Missouri Chamber of Commerce and Industry developed in partnership with the Missouri Dept. of Higher Education and Workforce Development.
This innovative service helps employers with registered apprenticeship programs find aspiring apprentices. The site also makes it easier for Missourians to take advantage of the outstanding career and skill growth opportunities that apprenticeships provide. More than 200 employers and partners have already signed up.
“With Missouri Apprentice Connect, our state is continuing to lead the U.S. in apprenticeship innovation. We are encouraging our members and job creators across Missouri to learn about the advantages of hosting a registered apprenticeship program. We also want Missouri workers — those who have lost their jobs and those who are ready for something more — to seriously consider pursuing an apprenticeship as a way to enhance their skills and grow into a new career,” said Mehan.
The need to prevent “the lost decade” and get workers into skilled jobs sooner is not lost on companies like Cerner.
The global health care technology company’s successful existing apprenticeship program made it possible for them to become the lead partner on the Missouri Chamber Foundation apprenticeship grant.
“We’re more than happy to share our success stories and best practices of what we’ve learned and to help other organizations that are facing similar challenges,” said Bill Huffaker, Cerner’s senior vice president of integrated talent.
Other key partners on the grant are several of Missouri’s leading technology companies, including World Wide Technology, Jack Henry, Fishtech and CyberUp.
CyberUp, a nonprofit based in St. Louis, provides training and career placement opportunities for apprentices.
“We are blessed as a state to have great academic institutions for those that pursue traditional pathways into careers, but we’re also fortunate to have great programs driving apprenticeship for our state to help individuals for whom college isn’t an option,” said CyberUp Executive Director Tony Bryan. “Very excited about the next several years of doing this grant with the Missouri Chamber and proud to support the state of Missouri and help drive workforce.”
Apprentice Mickey Price used CyberUp’s training programs to learn about careers in cybersecurity and ultimately landed an apprenticeship at Barry-Wehmiller, a global supplier of manufacturing technology and solutions.
“I didn’t know what I wanted to do in technology, but I knew I was looking for on-the-job training,” said Price.
Price began her apprenticeship remotely in March 2020 during the pandemic lockdown.
“I went back to school for network engineering and now I’ve got a job in the industry before I even have my associate’s degree,” she said.
She said the experience “totally changed the trajectory” of her education and that she didn’t know where she would be right now were it not for the program.
“I might be still in customer service without them,” said Price. “I couldn’t be more grateful to everybody.”