Illinois leaders have embraced apprenticeship programs as an effective strategy to connect businesses with people seeking careers. Although the state has made strides in expanding the number of apprentices, women and people of color still are underrepresented in apprenticeship programs and many young adults either reject or are unaware of apprenticeship as a viable path to quality jobs. Increasing the number of apprentices from nontraditional backgrounds will require the state to partner with organizations–namely school districts, nonprofit service providers, community colleges, and Workforce Innovation and Opportunity coordinators–that already serve job seekers who are underrepresented in apprenticeships.
Recognizing the need to expand the capacity of these organizations to serve as apprenticeship recruitment and retention providers (ARRPs), Young Invincibles and its partners at Chicago Jobs Council developed and facilitated a statewide workshop series to teach potential ARRPs state-specific apprenticeship terminology, best practices for connecting their clients with apprenticeship opportunities, and the roles their organizations could serve in apprenticeship programs. The workshop series reached each of the state’s economic development regions, with over 250 organizations in attendance. With feedback from the workshop attendees and focus group participants, Young Invincibles and the Jobs Council identified recommendations that would integrate potential ARRPs into the work of apprenticeship navigators and intermediaries–the two roles that serve as the infrastructure for current apprenticeship expansion in the state. By embracing the following steps, ARRPs will become the third pillar of Illinois’ apprenticeship system and ensure that marginalized people have the same access and outcomes as those traditionally represented in apprenticeship. The state should:
- Increase navigators, intermediaries and ARRPs’ access to ongoing training on the fundamentals of apprenticeship,
- Create a barrier reduction fund that helps apprentices pay for child care, transportation, equipment and other costs that serve as obstacles to successful completion of apprenticeship programs,
- Create equity targets that allow the state to track its progress on recruiting and retaining underrepresented groups in apprenticeship programs.
Without embracing these strategies, the state will struggle to make apprenticeships more diverse and communities of color, women, young adults and other people who have structural barriers to employment opportunities will not benefit from apprenticeships. By creating more inclusive apprenticeships, more communities can secure a healthy economic future.