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$4 million federal grant to help ApprenticeshipNC keep growing

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The North Carolina Community College System (NCCCS) recently received a $4 million grant from the U.S. Department of Labor to strengthen its ApprenticeshipNC program over the next four years.

Five years ago, the system gained control of the state’s apprenticeship program. The NCCCS turned the program into a national leader in workforce training, doubling apprenticeships in four years. The grant from the U.S. Department of Labor’s Employment and Training administration “will enable ApprenticeshipNC to strengthen, modernize, expand, and diversify its Registered Apprenticeship Program (RAP), and improve RAP completion rates for underrepresented populations, underserved and rural communities.”

“This grant will support North Carolina’s economic recovery post-COVID-19 pandemic and ensure preparedness for the future,” the system said.

​​ApprenticeshipNC is the state agency that certifies apprenticeships. The program was previously run by the Department of Labor and the Department of Commerce.

In 2016, the last year ApprenticeshipNC was under Commerce Department supervision, there were 5,161 apprentices statewide. The next year, N.C. legislators voted to move the program to the community college system. Last year, apprenticeships rose to 16,896, according to the most recent report from ApprenticeshipNC. That’s up from 12,244 participants the year prior, during the initial impact of the pandemic.

Funding for the $4 million grant started in July and will extend through June 30, 2026. ApprenticeshipNC will use the funds to expand its programs and apprentices in priority industry sectors, the system said. The NCCCS will also aim to diversify the industries that utilize the program.

Diversifying apprenticeships

Historically, apprenticeship programs lack diversity – in part due to apprenticeships existing in predominantly white, male fields. The $4 million grant, NCCCS said, will enable ApprenticeshipNC to create partnerships with communities of color. One planned partnership, for example, is with Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) to create a career pathway model culminating in a bachelor’s degree. The system also plans to partner with the Hispanic/Latino Action Coalition to increase the number of Hispanic/Latino apprentices.

Barriers preventing students of color from enrolling in youth apprenticeship programs include inconsistent recruiting and a lack of representation of people of color, according to a 2019 N.C. Justice Center report.

“My goal is that our programs, whether it be a curriculum program or an apprenticeship program, should look like our community looks,” Justin Snyder, dean of Alamance Community College’s applied engineering, agriculture, and skilled trades division, told WorkShift in 2021. “We’ve had some really hard conversations over the last year with our students of color to say, ‘Have you ever felt uncomfortable in these situations? What can we do to help recruit your friends? What are the things that attracted you?’” 

‘On the right track’

Last May, the State Board approved an allocation of up to $11.6 million from the State Fiscal Recovery Funds to establish a temporary program to expand apprenticeship opportunities for high school and non-high school apprentices. The goal was to increase the number of North Carolinians, particularly within underserved populations, accessing NCCCS education and training.

From 2017 to 2021, the number of youth apprentices recruited by community colleges while in high school quadrupled. There are now 1,185 youth participants statewide.

The agency also served 4,379 military service members in 2021. The program offers pathways into high-quality civilian careers and credentials for transitioning service members.

“Service members have a better opportunity to move into a civilian career at an equivalent or higher level having earned that certificate,” said Eric Burgos, program director for the N.C. National Guard Employment Center, in the ApprenticshipNC annual report. “I’ll give you one example: we had an employee begin working for a trucking company. When he mentioned he had his journeyman’s certificate, he immediately got an $8+/hour raise.”

Students from Henderson County Public Schools sign on to be part of the Made in Henderson County Apprenticeship Program in 2019, an advanced manufacturing workforce initiative. Courtesy of Blue Ridge Community College

In 2017, community colleges across the state hosted 5 pre-apprenticeship and apprenticeship programs. Last year, N.C. community colleges hosted 47 total programs – offering options at 138 occupations and serving 975 participants of ApprenticeshipNC.

Recruitment of student apprentices is one thing; retaining them is another. Students in apprenticeship programs face the same barriers to staying enrolled that exist at community colleges across the board. Along with general retention efforts, ApprenticeshipNC aims to increase completion by layering industry certifications into curriculum.

Part of the new grant from the Department of Labor will be used to further improve apprenticeship completion rates. The grant will focus on the following industry sectors: advanced manufacturing, clean energy, education, health care, information technology, life sciences, skilled trades, and transportation.

Walter Siegenthaler, “the godfather of apprenticeships in North Carolina,” previously told EdNC that he expects to see the growth of apprenticeships in health care and other industries.

“It’s great to have manufacturers, but I think there is so much potential in other fields like in health care,” he said in 2020. “There is a lot more to be done, and I think that we are on the right track.”

Hannah Vinueza McClellan

Hannah McClellan is EducationNC’s senior reporter and covers education news and policy, and faith.