West Virginia, Green Bank Observatory, Revitalize Workforce Through Apprenticeships


More and more students are turning away from college and toward apprenticeships.

Machinist apprentice Priscilla Grimes operates a lathe in the Mechanical Division of the Green Bank Observatory. The Green Bank apprenticeship program was developed by the Robert C. Byrd Institute at Marshall University to assist the observatory in passing on the skills of experienced employees to a new generation of workers.

Today, the nation’s colleges and universities enroll about 15 million undergraduate students, while companies employ about 800,000 apprentices. But federal data shows that in the past decade college enrollment has declined by about 15 percent, while the number of apprentices has increased by more than 50 percent.

Apprenticeship programs are increasing in both number and variety, Dr. Robert Lerman, a labor economist at the Urban Institute, recently told The Wall Street Journal. He said about 40 percent of the nation’s apprenticeships are now outside of the construction trades, where most traditionally have been.

Registered apprenticeship programs enable employers to build a trained workforce while offering workers paid work experience, classroom instruction and a nationally-recognized certificate for that occupation.

It’s a model that’s well suited to the Mountain State workforce, said Dave Lavender, who coordinates workforce training and apprenticeships at the West Virginia Department of Labor. According to Lavender, West Virginia ranks 5th in the nation for registered apprenticeships per capita, with more than 5,000 apprentices earning while working.

The Robert C. Byrd Institute at Marshall University has a long history of fostering apprenticeships, not just in West Virginia but in a lengthening list of states.

Since 2016, Apprenticeship Works, the National Advanced Manufacturing Apprenticeship initiative at RCBI, has assisted manufacturers in 21 states coast to coast, including West Virginia. The initiative helps companies develop and implement customized apprenticeship programs in 20 high-demand advanced manufacturing occupations.

In January, RCBI was awarded $4.5 million in federal funding to bolster and expand its national advanced manufacturing apprenticeship partnership.

The $4.5 million in new funding was made possible through a congressional spending request secured by Sens. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., and Joe Manchin, D-W.Va. It covers the direct cost to employers of establishing apprentices through RCBI.

RCBI Deputy Director Derek Scarbro said the additional funding will help more manufacturers overcome critical workforce challenges. “Thanks to the strong support of Senators Capito and Manchin, who have taken time to learn firsthand about the impacts of RCBI’s innovative workforce initiatives, we will continue to expand our nationwide advanced manufacturing apprenticeship program to meet the needs of manufacturers, including companies large and small here in West Virginia.”

Apprenticeship Works began in 2016 after the U.S. Department of Labor heralded RCBI’s hybrid apprenticeship model as one that should be replicated nationwide. The DOL, in turn, provided funding to launch the initiative.

The DOL-registered apprenticeships combine standardized, industry-endorsed online technical instruction with in-person training. This approach ensures quality, affordable training that can be scaled across multiple company locations. It also enables companies to develop apprenticeships that meet their specific needs at a pace that suits them, while providing apprentices with opportunities for career advancement and the ability to earn a college degree.

To encourage underrepresented groups to consider careers in advanced manufacturing, Apprenticeship Works also focuses on recruiting women, military veterans and disadvantage youth through a related pre-apprenticeship program.

Since 2016, Apprenticeship Works has delivered skill sets, training and credentials to more than 750 apprentices and 470 pre-apprentices.

West Virginia companies and organizations that have participated in Apprenticeship Works include AHF Products of Beverly, Alcon in Huntington, Europtec in Clarksburg, Gestamp in South Charleston, the Green Bank Observatory in Green Bank, Kanawha Manufacturing in Charleston, Level 1 Fasteners in Huntington and Weyerhaeuser in Buckhannon and Sutton, along with others.

To learn more about Apprenticeship Works, visit RCBI’s website at www.rcbi.org/apprenticeships or contact Carol Howerton, senior strategic advisor for workforce development, at gro.i1709518254bcr@n1709518254otrew1709518254oh.lo1709518254rac1709518254 or by calling 304-781-1690.

See this full article by James E. Casto in the WV Gazette.

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