Future of Work: Registered Apprentice Programs

Pam Sornson, JD

For decades, there has been a divide between learning and working. Educational systems promulgated processes that compelled people to choose to either work or go to school but didn’t give them the option to do both at the same time. That reality is changing as the burgeoning economy demands more on-the-line workers, even while the supply of that skilled workforce is currently insufficient.

One response to the challenge is to develop apprenticeship opportunities across industries that train new workers while they’re actually on the job. Utilizing apprenticeships is a historically proven labor-development practice that ensures both a well-trained workforce and a well-employed community. Filling open positions with trainees, rather than waiting until after all training is complete, improves teaching program outcomes, adds valuable resources to the enterprise, and increases employment levels throughout the community. Today, the U.S. federal government is championing its Registered Apprentice Program (RAP) to provide critical connections between the companies needing qualified employees and the eager learners who are looking to fill those positions.


America’s Registered Apprentice Program

Administered through the federal Department of Labor (DOL), the RAP gives employers tools and resources to develop the precise style of apprenticeship program that works for their enterprise. It also provides resources for learners who are seeking an apprenticeship.

For Employers/Sponsors:

The RAP uses Registered Apprentice Industry Intermediaries to collect, assess, and educate on apprenticeship opportunities within individual industries. Companies looking to build apprenticeships within their infrastructure can get guidance and technical support from these professionals on establishing and managing employment opportunities for potential apprentices.

The RAP’s ‘Occupational Outlook Handbook‘ provides data and strategies that can direct the details of an apprenticeship, such as entry-level educational drivers, median pay ranges, and even job projections for that position. The handbook parses out ‘occupational groups’ by industry and effort, recognizing that some jobs are valued in many (sometimes all) industries. Apprenticeships for legal, financial, and management positions straddle virtually every sector, while those for architecture and engineering, as examples, will attract a much narrower segment of potential applicants.

The handbook also offers:

a ‘Teachers Guide‘ for the education professionals who work with apprentices in the classroom, and

Subject Area Categories that inform future employers about managing their apprentices, including data on potential pay and benefits, productivity, workplace injuries, and other occupationally relevant issues.

The RAP’s ‘Partner Finder‘ resource connects parties interested in apprenticeships in any capacity.

Employers can actively search for entities that share common industrial traits to find a likely pool of apprentice candidates. Entering occupationally significant keywords and geographical locations into the database flags partnership options that are relevant to the inquiry.

RAP Sponsors are organizations that operate an apprenticeship program. They are responsible for designing apprentice options, overseeing training and development activities, and offering learners hands-on learning and technical instruction for their chosen occupation. They frequently operate also as collaborators with their community colleagues, including schools, industry agencies, and economic organizations.

The RAP’s Standards Builder provides the tools Sponsors need to establish a registered apprentice program within their organization. This resource offers a unique series of tools that combine the requirements of both the employing enterprise and the educational institution that provides the coursework for the position.

The Requirements for Apprenticeship Sponsors Reference Guide walks employers through the apprenticeship development process to ensure they – and the learner – access all available resources.

The Standards Builder User Guide secures the connection between the employer and the DOL, which assures the federal agency that the Sponsor is acting appropriately within the scope of the RAP structure.

Sponsors agree to follow the protocols required by the DOL while also addressing issues that arise within the school setting, including following up on and incorporating the applicant’s previous work experience as an element of the educational credential they’ll eventually receive. Through the RAP, the DOL also offers industry-focused experts who advise company owners about the myriad of nuances involved in establishing apprenticeship opportunities for their organization.


For Future Apprentices:

People seeking career training opportunities will find many valuable resources on the RAP website. Services provide direction for potential apprentices from all walks of life, including those who may struggle to find work otherwise:

The website lets users find available jobs and save their job search data, acting as a continuous resource for employment searches. Job seeking can be nationwide or local, directed to specific industries or occupations, or focused on finding an apprenticeship program rather than a job.

Many apprentices are new to the workforce, such as high school or college graduates. They come with few or no skills but offer the employer a ‘blank slate’ to gain the exact worker they need.

Some have faced barriers that prevented their entry into the workforce, including prior incarceration. The RAP opportunity provides resources that help this population find a new life and promising future through apprenticeships.

Its Clean Slate Clearinghouse helps formerly incarcerated individuals ‘clean up’ their criminal record by connecting them to lawyers who can help expunge or mitigate convictions found in publicly accessed permanent databases. Removing these aspects from public view (where possible and appropriate) allows the newly freed community member to avoid being unnecessarily excluded from work opportunities.

RAP’s Reentry Employment Opportunities Program (REO) provides resources directly to entities willing to work with and hire formerly incarcerated people as apprentices or in other employment positions. The focus is on assisting the individual to assimilate back into the community as a contributing and valuable community member.

Service members and veterans also gain resources through the RAP. This population often brings a unique set of skills from their military experience, some of which are not transferable to a civilian occupation. Transitioning any skillset from one employment arena to another takes knowledge and strategy. The RAP combines its opportunities with those already available to these service members, including the GI Bill®, the Veteran’s Readiness and Employment Program for workers with service-connected injuries, and the Partnership on Inclusive Apprenticeships, which offers resources for former service members with disabilities.


The demand for a better-skilled workforce is driven by the multitude of factors that are now impacting America: a fluctuating economy, a wealth of emerging technologies, and an almost unlimited roster of occupational opportunities. Apprenticeships offer a nuanced response to many of the challenges presented by those factors while also allowing the flexibility required to gain precisely the labor force assets that are needed. Embracing the apprenticeship option can reduce or eliminate altogether the divide between education and occupation.



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