Selecting Your Apprentice

Now that you’ve put shape to your program, it’s time to start recruiting, hiring, and training apprentices. In Section Two (Developing a Program), you learned about the Standards of Apprenticeship, which includes determining the minimum qualifications for applicants and the selection procedure. In this section, we will discuss the importance of setting the right minimums to ensure the success of your program. Keep in mind that the apprenticeship selection process is not intended to replace your company’s human resources and on-boarding policies, but rather to complement them in order to maximize the apprenticeship’s results.

The Network recommends the following minimum qualifications based on best practice research:

  • Apprentices must be at least 18 years of age
  • Apprentices must have a high school diploma or GED
  • Apprentices must be physically able to complete tasks associated with the job
  • Apprentices must have demonstrated a strong work ethic through prior education and/or employment
  • Apprentices must be able to pass a drug test

In addition to these minimum requirements, companies may choose to require additional qualifications for applicants. One qualification some companies choose to implement is that all potential apprentices be current employees of the company.  This practice ensures that apprentices are a good fit for the company culture and allows both parties to demonstrate the potential for loyalty. Other companies are comfortable with new hires entering an apprenticeship program directly as a way to begin equipping them with the skills needed to succeed and grow on the job from day one.

It’s important to keep in mind that an apprenticeship is designed to offer individuals an opportunity to enter into a career pathway and to learn the necessary job skills while earning a wage. This requires a careful balance between attracting strong candidates and hiring individuals with the potential to learn. As you set your minimum qualifications, keep this in mind. You may want to develop an apprentice profile that highlights some of the skills and attributes your most successful new hires possess so that you can attract similar applicants to the program.

Candidates for Pre-Apprenticeship:

As you begin searching for candidates you may come across individuals with interest and potential, but not enough exposure or experience to manufacturing to currently be hired by your company. Keep in mind that you can refer these individuals to the Manufacturing Readiness Program.

The Manufacturing Readiness Program was created as a pre-apprenticeship course to prepare individuals for entry-level manufacturing positions. The class is conducted over seven weeks and participants earn seven nationally recognized credentials. Weeks one and two focus on work readiness and contextualized remediation, including: workplace skills, personal effectiveness, math and reading remediation, goal planning, team building, resume and interview workshops. Weeks three through six focus on technical training based upon the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and Manufacturing Skill Standard Council (MSSC) Certified Production Technician (CPT) curricula. Individuals successfully completing this program will earn nationally-recognized and transferable credentials (WorkKeys® National Career Readiness Certificate, OSHA-compliant 10 hour safety for general industry, and the MSSC CPT).

Attraction and Recruitment:

We don’t have to tell you that recruiting young people for jobs in manufacturing is difficult, but we believe that apprenticeship is, in itself, a recruitment strategy. Individuals without formal training are often caught in a catch-22 of needing to find work and needing to develop their skills at the same time. This often forces them to choose low-wage jobs, to avoid training programs that interfere with their work schedule, or to go into debt while pursuing traditional education. Apprenticeship allows individuals to choose both—working and learning—at the same time. This is the key message when recruiting for your program.

Still, it is important set expectations. The Manufacturing Institute explains:

Always be realistic in your portrayal of the Apprenticeship Program. Showcase the many advantages but do not down play the commitment needed to be successful in this role. This will help ensure that you are attracting the right pool of candidates.

Please refer to the Apprenticeship Playbook, pages 56-60, for a detailed approach to branding and marketing your program with these expectations in mind.

Apprentice Selection and Details:

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Now that you have a strong pool of candidates applying to your program, the apprentice selection process begins. It is critically important that your selection process be objective and consistent. In your standards, you described the process—which may have included an interview, pre-tests, etc.—each candidate will go through. As always, the apprenticeship program does not supersede your company’s human resources policies, but it is usually a good idea to make your apprentices selection process more rigorous than your standard hiring procedure. Ideally, every apprentice you hire is agreeing to invest their time and energy into your company, and vice versa. It’s essential that this agreement isn’t entered into lightly.

For additional suggestions and strategies for selecting apprentices, see The Apprenticeship Assessment Process,  the Manufacturing Institute Apprenticeship Playbook, and the Greater Oh-Penn’s Apprenticeship Flow.

Wages and BenefitsApprenticeship_Fact5

An apprentice’s wage scale must be progressive and not less than the minimum wage stated in the Fair Labor Standards Act. The scale must reflect the skill level of the apprentice.

The wage scale can be based on monthly increments or by hourly increments; for example an apprentice may see their first wage increase after an assessment of skill at month 12 in the program or after hour 250 in the program, depending on the model chosen (time or  competency-based). A Base Skilled Wage Rate must be decided in order to establish the wage increase scale.

Apprentice wages are tied to progress in the program; increases must be issued when an apprentice successfully completes a performance period (determined in the Standards of Apprenticeship) or an assessment. Minimum increases are set in the standards; however, apprentices can and should receive wage increases in congruence with their progress. In other words, exemplary apprentices may receive increases above the minimum.

Probationary Periods

Probationary periods are designed to allow the employer/mentor and the apprentice time to learn one another and for the apprentice to make the necessary adjustments required to begin working successfully. This is separate from your company’s probationary periods for new hires. Generally, apprenticeship probationary periods are between 90 and 180 days from the start of their apprenticeship program. If an apprentice should decide to dissolve the apprenticeship within the probationary period, it will not have a negative impact on the apprenticeship program.

PA symbolPennsylvania Apprentice Selection: If your company is registering its apprenticeship in Pennsylvania, and you have fewer than five apprentices, you do not have to document your apprentice selection process in your standards.

Apprenticeship Retention:

It’s a common misconception that apprenticeship programs are a high-risk strategy for workforce development. In fact, in our best practice interviews with companies like Butech Bliss, Luk, Hamill Manufacturing, and Oberg Industries—all of which have had successful apprenticeship programs over a number of years or even decades—HR and operations managers have noted that their apprentices are among the most loyal employees.

Your Apprenticeship Program will not be successful without retaining your top performers. Once your top performers have been identified, you will want to make sure they successfully complete the program and transition into full time roles. Though the decision to stay or leave a program/company is a personal one, there are several areas you can focus on to engage and retain participants, especially top performers. This includes:

  • Provide competitive compensation
  • Foster a positive and respectful work environment
  • Create a sense of employment stability during the program
  • Explain that if successful, they will be well suited for a full-time position when available (do not guarantee employment)
  • Ensure that the apprentice feels the work is meaningful; effectively engage them
  • Provide appropriate recognition

A strong retention strategy can turn your best apprentices into your best long-term employees.