By James Mitchell
Michigan may have been at the high end of the country’s unemployment rates in recent years, but analysts see a bright future when considering one area that the state outpaced national averages: According to the U.S. Dept. of Labor, Michigan ranked well above other states in apprenticeship programs and graduates.
The state recorded more than double the average number of active apprentices in 2013, with more than 11,300 students enrolled compared to a national average of 5,534. Nearly 1,000 students completed a program in Michigan, compared to an average 853 nationwide.
“Apprenticeships are huge,” said Pamela Moore, president and CEO of Detroit Employment Solutions. “It’s a career track out of high school that will not leave you saddled with student loans and debts.
Moore said that the resurgence in employer-subsidized training programs has expanded to fields other than the conventional, blue-collar mold, which itself has been retooled to keep pace with technology. Apprenticeships, she said, became all the more valuable in the process.
“There’s a huge focus, not only in skilled trades but IT and health care are just as much in demand,” Moore said. The apprenticeship path – ideally beginning at the high school level – has been a time-tested approach in manufacturing-based Michigan.
“There’s nothing to reinvent,” Moore said of the combination of classroom education and hands-on experience found in 21st Century factories. “They’re not the jobs they used to be 60 years ago,” Moore said. “People need training, skills and credentials to compete in these highly advanced fields.”
Amy Cell, senior vice president of training enhancement at the Michigan Economic Development Corporation, said the state has been at the forefront of applying apprenticeship fundamentals to other fields, notably through the Michigan Advanced Technology Training, known as MAT2, which has expanded to include certified nursing training and is exploring additional fields and more partner colleges.
“The programs run different lengths, with work and study opportunities in different formats” Cell said. “We’re continuing to refine it based on the needs.”
One example Moore cited that contributed to Michigan rising above the national averages for apprentices was the Detroit Registered Apprenticeship Program, which began two years ago with conversations between Detroit Employment Solutions and the Labor Department. Programs that had worked – including partnerships with the Michigan Workforce Development Agency – were studied for use in other industries.
According to the U.S. Dept. of Labor, more than 1,000 occupations are now listed as apprentice-eligible. Michigan initiated 87 new apprenticeship programs in 2013, compared to the average of 30 debut programs per state nationwide. Nearly 3,000 (2,989) new apprentices were enrolled in Michigan programs compared to the average 2,188 in other states.
“We created the model, and focused on sectors that are growing,” Moore said. “Skilled trades were front and center, but we also looked within other sectors. We’ve gotten away from marketing skilled trades as a career that will sustain families and provide very livable wages.”