How States Are Taking an Equity Lens to Expanding Apprenticeship Programs

Young woman working machine drill

Apprenticeship is a critical workforce strategy for building the nation’s infrastructure while establishing pathways to quality careers and economic stability. Diversifying and creating equitable access to the Registered Apprenticeship system is a priority for the U.S. Department of Labor (USDOL), and significant federal investments have been made to expand apprenticeship opportunities.

While apprenticeships produce strong results for employers and workers, access to apprenticeships is uneven. USDOL noted in a recent blog post that women remain underrepresented in apprenticeship and Black apprentices complete at rates significantly lower than their White counterparts, and acknowledged that “we still have a long way to go toward advancing equity in apprenticeship participation.”

All types of partners in the apprenticeship ecosystem, including education, workforce, labor, and industry, are stepping up to help close equity gaps. States play a critical and unique role in ensuring that equity is woven into the structures of the apprenticeship system itself due to their ability to convene a broad spectrum of partners and to drive policies that promote access and equity.

The Five Elements of Effective State Apprenticeship Expansion, a framework developed by AIR through the State Apprenticeship Expansion Project, supports states in developing and implementing multi-faceted strategies to build a diverse, equitable apprenticeship system. This blog provides a look at how several states are advancing diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility (DEIA) strategies within the five elements of this framework.

Element 1: State Leadership and Policy

Using data to inform state leadership and policy and infuse equity into apprenticeship expansion.

States are analyzing state-level, disaggregated data to understand where there are gaps in access to, participation in, and completion of Registered Apprenticeship Programs. Several states, such as Maryland and Illinois, make this information publicly available as part of their annual state apprenticeship reports. This analysis—paired with efforts to understand the root causes of these gaps—helps leaders and policymakers develop and enact apprenticeship equity goals, strategies, and policies.

Element 2: State Outreach and Business Engagement

Adding intentional conversations on equity into business outreach and engagement practices.

Registered Apprenticeship Programs take on the values and culture of the employer organizations that run them. States are taking various approaches to encourage employers to recognize the benefits of prioritizing equity in apprenticeship. States are beginning to develop the ability to assess employer readiness for equitable apprenticeships and to conduct outreach to employers with a track record of DEIA success. For example, Kentucky is increasing its outreach to woman- and minority-owned businesses to engage these employers in starting up apprenticeships. Additionally, states are helping employers with active apprenticeships expand access by providing connections to partners and training for apprentice mentors. South Carolina and Massachusetts provide DEIA training for current and prospective employers that administer apprenticeship programs.

Element 3: Capacity to Develop, Register, and Support Programs

Integrating an equity focus into state efforts to develop and support programs.

States are ensuring that the partners and staff working to expand apprenticeship programs have the skills, information, and tools they need to do so with an equity lens. For example, Pennsylvania provided a three-part training series for organizations preparing to apply for grant funding on how to build equitable Registered Apprenticeship Programs. Texas is one of several states using apprenticeship-specific Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Accessibility Specialists to help partners integrate DEIA best practices early in the apprenticeship program development process.

Element 4: Development of and Support for Diverse Apprenticeship Pipelines

Understanding the factors that affect enrollment and completion for diverse apprentices.

Oregon’s state apprenticeship agency has implemented quarterly surveys of all apprentices that have exited Registered Apprenticeship Programs. The survey collects both quantitative and qualitative information, including apprentice demographics, from respondents that have left apprenticeship training—those who dropped out, were terminated from their program, or successfully completed. Survey responses are used to better understand the experiences of apprentices, including underrepresented populations, and to develop a strategic plan for addressing barriers to access and completion of apprenticeship training programs, including how to develop targeted supports to meet the diverse needs of apprentices.

Element 5: Alignment with Career Pathways and Post-secondary Education

Increasing engagement with partners providing career exploration activities to diverse participants.

Many states are providing meaningful opportunities for on-the-job learning through youth apprenticeship and pre-apprenticeship training programs. Colorado’s CareerWise program is a robust initiative that connects youth apprenticeship opportunities with the career and technical education system and has centralized equity as a focus of career learning.

Apprenticeship is a workforce pathway that leads to quality careers and economic stability for many. However, more work is necessary to improve equitable access and outcomes for diverse communities in the Registered Apprenticeship system. AIR is excited about continuing to support the work of states and others through evidence-based technical assistance and training that brings an equity lens to growing apprenticeship in the United States.