You’re Hired! (As an Apprentice)

Korn Ferry’s Doug Charles sees “meaningful” opportunity in President Trump's training plan for firms ... if they plan long term.

It was the highlight of this week’s “Workforce Development Week” and has sparked both the usual partisan praise and criticism. But as the dust settles, President Trump’s ambitious plan to create up to five million new apprenticeship jobs in five years will need more than the right funding—but a deeper commitment from the corporate world.

Under the program, the federal government works with companies to provide specialized and approved training in functional skills in critical areas such as manufacturing, infrastructure, healthcare, and cybersecurity. Trump plans to double the funding to $200 million. But experts say for the idea to really work, several things have to happen as well—companies themselves need to provide access to additional training both to the graduating apprentices and to the managers training them.

According to Doug Charles, Korn Ferry’s president of the Americas, the apprenticeship program can make meaningful difference particularly in the development of a data-savvy workforce. But large firms must participate. “If a large tech company were to say it wants to see more internships in digital programming or cybersecurity, I think it could influence the program,” he says. “But it would take a commitment, such as hiring thousands of people over several years.”

Under the executive order to expand the apprenticeship program, signed yesterday, the Commerce and Labor Departments will partner with business leaders, doubling the amount of federal funds committed to the apprenticeship program. Most of the apprenticeship costs are borne by employers or labor unions that reap the benefit of workers with specialized training. The administration also promises to expedite review of apprenticeships eligible under the new program.

According to the Department of Labor, apprenticeships offer a “clear career path,” with the promise of higher wages. Apprentices earn an average starting salary of about $60,000, and are likely to earn $300,000 more, on average, over their careers compared to those who do not participate in apprenticeships. The apprenticeship program is being billed as an alternative to four-year college degrees.

Charles believes there is an incentive for many employers to create apprenticeships to develop new talent with specialized skill sets. Dedicated training will allow these workers to “hit the ground running” in job functions quickly. For example, logistics is an area with demand for data-centric skills, where a willingness to train apprentices might be a highly workable solution.

The upside is obvious: a solid paycheck for the employee and a workforce with specialized skills for employers. Still, he warns that apprenticeships can have some drawbacks if employers and employees don’t plan beyond the program and the initial opportunities it provides. Otherwise apprentices-turned-employees who are trained in specific areas could see their career paths limited in time. “The earlier you start specializing, the less likely you can change the course of action of your career,” Charles says.

That could lead to another skills gap in the future: team leaders and managers unable to manage both projects and people. To bridge that gap, employers will have to look beyond the apprenticeship program’s focus on specialized skills to train young professionals to be able to manage, lead, and motivate others.