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Training strategy addresses skilled worker shortages

Federal government pushes apprenticeship program

JACKSON — During the month of October, the Mississippi office of the Bureau of Apprenticeship and Training is partnering with the U.S. Department of Labor to

promote public awareness of the National Registered Apprenticeship Program, dubbed the “world’s classic training system,” in support of the Workforce Investment

Act and as a means of calling attention to a training strategy that can help address the shortage of skilled workers in the country.

“Apprenticeship has been around for thousands of years and the registered program in the U.S. has been in place since legislation was passed (in the late 1930s),” said

Fred Westcott, state director of the Bureau of Apprenticeship and Training Office, and a former vocational educator who was a carpenter apprentice 36 years ago.

“It’s the most effective way to develop skilled trades. While you can teach in a classroom, students aren’t sure they know it until they actually do the work.”

Nationwide, 37,000 program sponsors represent more than 250,000 employers, industries and companies that offer registered apprenticeship to approximately

440,000 apprentices employed in approximately 850 occupations. Registered apprentices earn real wages and pay taxes while learning the skills necessary to succeed

in high skilled high-paying jobs, and sometimes earn college credit toward a degree at the same time.

Ingalls Shipbuilding in Pascagoula is the largest of the approximate 350 employers in the voluntary industry-driven training program in Mississippi, for which there is no

charge to employers. Statewide, 2,600 individuals are enrolled in the registered apprenticeship program.

“As a whole, the construction industry has about as many apprentices as Ingalls,” Westcott said. “The third most populous industry is machine tool trades.”

Since Ingalls Indentured Apprenticeship Program originated in 1952, more than 3,000 apprentices have graduated. More than 500 apprentices are currently enrolled

in 20 areas of craft training.

“The apprenticeship program is the life blood of the shipyard,” said Steve Robinson, Ingalls director of employee services. “This is where we get our future craftsmen,

supervisors, planners, designers and engineers.”

The registered apprenticeship program can be a partnership of business and organized labor as the primary program operators, or implemented by employers or

employer associations, while government plays a support role, and the Bureau of Apprenticeship and Training (BAT), with field staff located in 83 offices nationwide,

provides technical consultation services on the development of the apprenticeship standards.

Even though BAT provides apprenticeship services in every state, it registers programs and apprentices in the 23 states where there is no State Apprenticeship

Council (SAC). Federal and state vocational education resources may pay a portion of the related technical instruction and/or instructors of related technical


Employers or employer groups and unions design, organize, manage and finance registered apprenticeship programs under a set of apprenticeship standards, which

include an on-the-job training outline, related classroom instruction curriculum and the apprenticeship operating procedures before they are registered with BAT.

Ingalls’ program, treated much like a regular college schedule with semesters beginning in January and August, combines on-the-job training at the shipyard with

classroom work at Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College. A normal week involves two-hour classroom work for two days before or after a work shift. By the

time apprentices graduate, they have logged from 4,000 hours for hull welders to 8,000 hours for other crafts. For instance, boilermakers, painters and pipewelders

must complete a three-year program consisting of 6,000 hours of work and 432 hours of school to graduate from the program. Grades are calculated on classroom

grades, work performance and attendance.

“The extensive amount of on-the-job training, combined with a solid curriculum of classroom work, allows each apprentice to benefit from a most thorough program of

instruction,” said Phillip Creel, apprenticeship training specialist.

Kris Merriman, assistant executive director of the Mississippi Construction Education Foundation, said the foundation took over adult craft training earlier this year

from the Associated Builders and Contractors who traditionally worked closely with the U.S. Department of Labor’s apprenticeship program.

“We’re now continuing with the same business with the Department of Labor,” Merriman said. “It’s not a mandated program. If an employer wants to have his

employees indentured through the Department of Labor, they are able to do that. We do have students in the night classes that are working toward their

apprenticeship four-year journeyman status. Some are indentured, others are not. We’re carrying on the program. It’s a benefit for our contractors not having to pay

first-year apprentices journeyman wages.”

Apprentices must be 18 years old, have a high school diploma or General Equivalency Diploma (GED) and be a U.S. citizen. Apprenticeship openings are listed via

newspaper, secondary and post-secondary schools, women’s centers, outreach programs, community organizations, one-stop centers or via the Internet.

Well-planned administered apprenticeship programs attract increased numbers of highly qualified applicants, reduce absenteeism, turnover, and the cost of training,

increase productivity and address the need to remain competitive by continuously upgrading workforce skills, Westcott said.

“The Workforce Investment Act is just now getting started in Mississippi and the Registered Apprenticeship Program is a part of the Act,” Westcott said. “We’re

currently working with various workforce investment boards in the state to see to it that apprenticeship is included in their activities.”

Contact MBJ contributing writer Lynne Wilbanks Jeter at lynne@thewritingdesk.com or (601) 853-3967.


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