Aug 22, 2022 - Economy

Apprenticeships are going beyond the trades

Illustration of an upward arrow shaped clip on name tag that says in training

Illustration: Natalie Peeples/Axios

Apprenticeship programs for people without college diplomas are back on the rise after a brief dip during the COVID-19 pandemic — and they're gaining traction in new fields.

Why it matters: With the average cost of a four-year degree skyrocketing, apprenticeships — in which someone typically without a relevant college education is trained to do a certain job while earning wages — can be an appealing alternative.

  • Such programs can help employers tap more diverse talent pools, given that Black and Hispanic people graduate college at lower rates than other groups.
  • And they can help ensure the country has enough workers in high-priority fields.

Driving the news: Multiverse, a startup that runs paid apprenticeship programs in partnership with major companies, raised $220 million at a $1.7 billion valuation this summer.

  • The company's aim, CEO Euan Blair tells Axios, is to popularize apprenticeships in fields without a long history of the practice, like software engineering.
  • It's also trying to help companies find workers who might not otherwise reach their candidate pool.
  • Multiverse is working with more than 500 companies and organizations, from Fortune 500 titans like Verizon, Visa and Cisco to upstarts like ClassPass and Box.

What they're saying: "We have allowed college admissions officers to become the gatekeepers of access to the best jobs in the labor market," says Blair.

  • And that's "despite the fact there's not a correlation between academics and job performance, despite the fact that colleges themselves have not been doing a great job on equity or cost on the people that go through that system," he adds.

The Biden administration, meanwhile, is pushing apprenticeships through Department of Labor initiatives, including an apprenticeship ambassador program and a 120-day cybersecurity apprenticeship "sprint," or all-out recruiting effort.

  • Apprenticeship efforts can complement legislation like the recently passed semiconductor bill and Inflation Reduction Act, says Department of Labor acting assistant secretary Brent Parton.
  • Both bills aim to spark domestic growth in next-gen industries, which in turn ratchets up the need for highly skilled workers.
  • Apprenticeship programs are a powerful way to help employers "and do it in a way that is creating equitable opportunities," Parton says.

By the numbers: More than 241,000 people began a registered apprenticeship last year, per Labor Department figures — a 9% increase from the prior year, though still shy of pre-pandemic numbers.

  • 9,000 people in the U.S. and U.K. are currently enrolled in or have completed a Multiverse apprenticeship.
  • 90% of those participants stayed on with the company where they apprenticed.

Yes, but: Plenty of hiring managers still view a college degree as table stakes for new hires.

  • Plus, companies have always had to train new workers to do specific jobs — so to some extent, apprenticeships are a way to formalize training that's already happening.

What's next: Apprenticeship advocates are optimistic they'll convert skeptics over time.

  • Once someone gets a foot in the corporate door, their formal educational background tends to matter less over time.
  • "If you're an AT&T exec, and someone's been at Verizon, you don't really care about them having a degree or not having a degree, right?" he says.
  • "You care about — what was their performance like at Verizon, what kind of roles did they fill, what sort of feedback would others have on them? You've got more data points at that point than the academic degree, which then becomes almost superfluous."
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