Registered Apprenticeships Continue to Show Their Worth

Iowa Workforce Development has spent the last few weeks meeting with Iowa employers as part of an outreach blitz tied to the launch of our new Business Engagement Division. We’re contacting hundreds of Iowa companies both to ask one-on-one questions about the workforce challenges they’re facing and, more importantly, to connect them directly with any appropriate assistance our experts can identify.

Those initial discussions already have reinforced one obvious lesson – that we were right to create a special division for this.

Workforce is a complicated stew of issues, and most employers simply don’t have time to sort through the relative benefits of more than 130 workforce programs that Iowa has sprinkled throughout state government. Employers need answers now.

But there’s another thing we’ve been reminded of over the last few weeks – that some of the best workforce solutions sometimes are the obvious ones. Because they work.

Registered Apprenticeships are a perfect example of this. They’ve existed for centuries: Young workers find experienced practitioners and earn while they learn on the job. Some of our planet’s finest minds began as apprentices, including Abraham Lincoln, Leonardo da Vinci, and Benjamin Franklin.

Each year, more and more Iowans are following this same well-trodden path, and we’re building more pipelines to develop the high-demand workers we so urgently need.

The U.S. Department of Labor recently announced that Iowa set a record with 9,731 active apprentices in the fiscal year ending September 30, 2022. A total of 5,402 Iowans joined apprenticeships during that period, and we led the nation by creating 163 new programs in multiple areas – including 25 new non-construction occupations. Iowans now can select from 890 different apprenticeships across the state.

Why is this growth happening? Because apprenticeships work.

Employees who join a registered apprenticeship program receive both highly skilled training and real paychecks with good wages. Workers spend part of their time in classrooms and the rest learning on the job. When training ends, apprentices end up with a nationally recognized credential and zero student loan debt. Roughly 93 percent, according to federal statistics, stay in their jobs post apprenticeship, providing their bosses with highly loyal, superbly trained employees.

Iowa needs these skilled workers. While our urban and suburban areas are growing, 68 counties lost population between 2000 and 2020, partially due to young people chasing opportunities beyond their home towns. Apprenticeships, even starting in high school, are one way communities can turn that tide and help themselves in the process.

Employers don’t have to go it alone. Iowa is leading the country in its aid for innovative apprenticeships, with more than $50 million in grants this year to support new apprenticeship programs that will help develop new health care workers, teachers, and paraeducators. We are opening up new paths to high-demand careers and building an infrastructure that will benefit Iowa for generations.

I hope you will join us this week as we celebrate National Apprenticeship Week, November 14-20. Visit www.EarnAndLearnIowa.gov to learn more about apprenticeships. You also can contact our Business Engagement team at iaworks@iwd.iowa.gov or simply visit your local IowaWORKS office.

Apprenticeships may not be the best choice for every occupation, but they’re excellent in a great many. And we’re finding more applications every day, growing our own future leaders in high-demand careers that are essential to Iowa’s quality of life.

The value of that certainly should be obvious.

Beth Townsend is director of Iowa Workforce Development, Iowa’s state agency overseeing unemployment benefits and re-employment services. 

The above opinion article, authored by IWD Director Beth Townsend, was previously published by the Quad-City Times, Bellevue Herald-Leader, and other newspapers across the Midwest.