Apprenticely: The Big Picture


Employers have figured out that apprenticeships provide a great ROI

Dudley Light


Editor’s Note: Dudley Light is Director of the U.S. Department of Labor’s Region 4 Office of Apprenticeship, located in Dallas, and he’s been a wonderful partner and guide as we’ve moved forward with the rebranding from ACDS to Apprenticely in order to expand to other states with Walmart. We asked him to put this development into the wider perspective of Registered Apprenticeships nationwide.


THE WHOLE FOUNDATION of apprenticeship is the employer. To have a job, you’ve got to have an employer, so that’s where we start. But historically, employers haven’t adopted apprenticeships as well as some of the other industries, such as the construction trades. That’s been the foundation for the Registered Apprenticeship system for nearly 90 years now, since it started back in the 1930s with the Fitzgerald Act.

But now more and more employers have figured out that this is a darn good way to train their people and get the product they want at the end. A lot of companies used to advertise positions open to people with a minimum of one to three years of experience. The problem was, where do you get that experience if nobody will hire you in the first place? So, employers have figured out that, “Hey, we can hire these people because there’s some advantages to hiring an apprentice, knowing that they don’t have a significant amount of knowledge of what they’re going to be doing, but they’re trainable.” And we put plenty of provisions in there for a probationary period, because there will be some who fall out of the system pretty early, unable to perform the work. Such provisions ensure that an employer can determine if an individual’s going to be able to keep pace, to be able to learn the trade or occupation; they also build into the individual apprentice the knowledge that the company’s investing in them. Because of that, companies typically will say, “Okay, this is a good thing for us.”

Most employers want to see it in real life, see how it works elsewhere. So our best selling point is usually to bring in a similar company that’s doing apprenticeships and let them talk company to company, CEO to CEO. “What’s your return on investment?” “I’m going to make an investment in the apprenticeship system, what’s my return?” “Is this a good thing for my company, or not?” It always is, because it’s a great system. Companies like Walmart, as large as they are, are more and more in a competitive world every day now, and they have to be able to compete. To be able to compete, they’ve got to have the better people. It raises a standard for everybody.

And because Walmart is showing that they believe in the apprenticeship system, it will get the attention of other businesses in the country. Part of what’s driving this is the technology involved in it. When you talk about Walmart, they’ve got a lot of refrigeration, they’ve got truck drivers, they’ve got huge distribution centers. So they need trained truck drivers, just like every other company. They need people who work within their stores, they need HVAC people, refrigeration people. They need a lot of the construction craft people who work directly for Walmart now.

Then you get into the IT, and there’s not a business that I’m aware of right now that doesn’t need some type of IT support, either in cybersecurity or just keeping the cash registers running. Because if the computer systems go down, they’re not selling product because they can’t ring them up on their cash registers. It’s all IT driven, all tech driven. So as we get more into tech, we learn pretty quickly that IT changes constantly, so a person has to almost do a continued training in that even after he or she becomes a journey-level worker. Because technology changes, and the systems change.

Even when you get into areas such as healthcare. For many years in this country, the healthcare industry never wanted to talk about apprenticeships; they had their own systems that they were comfortable with. Well, now they’re beginning to realize that Registered Apprenticeships give them another avenue to reach a lot of people they couldn’t reach in the past and not only keep their high standards, but in fact improve the standards across the board, giving them a better workforce to select from and making them more profitable.

Again, after more than eight decades of experience with the basics of the construction trades, we’re now moving into other areas. We actually have programs now for HR specialists, workforce development folks, you name it. By definition, if you can learn it by on-the-job learning and related training instruction in combination with an employer to support it, it’s apprenticeable. So Registered Apprenticeships are a win-win situation, no matter where you go or what industry you go into.