Lessons learned in creativity, patience and flexibility will help enhance ApprenticeshipNH programing in 2021
We are excited to enter year four of the ApprenticeshipNH initiative with more knowledge and experience on how to adapt after a year that required much creativity, patience and flexibility. While 2020 presented many challenges for our programs that thrive on hands-on learning, it created several lessons learned that can help enhance programs in 2021. It also reinforced the fact that New Hampshire employers need apprenticeship programs to fill ongoing employment needs that remained even during a pandemic.
The ApprenticeshipNH Initiative, housed at the Community College System of NH (CCSNH), is funded by multiple grants from the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) and the American Association of Community Colleges (AACC). CCSNH’s first DoL grant was awarded in 2016 and the most recent grant awarded in July 2020 is designed to build apprenticeship pathways for high school students and underserved youth.
The focus of all apprenticeship grants and the ApprenticeshipNH Initiative is to assist New Hampshire employers with addressing workforce needs by building Pre-Apprenticeship and Registered Apprenticeship programs in high-demand sectors. These programs feature an “earn-while-you-learn” model that combines hands-on job training and classroom instruction with one of the seven CCSNH colleges. Focus sectors include advanced manufacturing, construction/infrastructure, healthcare, information technology and hospitality. In 2020, we expanded into the automotive and biomedical technology sectors.
Since our inception, ApprenticeshipNH has focused efforts on building partnerships with businesses who faced hiring gaps and struggled to grow. In January 2018, New Hampshire’s unemployment rate was 2.7% and dropped down to 2.4% in March 2020, right before the pandemic began to impact the economy. With unemployment levels this low, the struggle to recruit and retain employees was of significant concern to many. What’s unique about the economic upheaval associated with the pandemic is that while unemployment shot up to an unprecedented 17.1% in April, it was down to 6.6% in August and ended 2020 at 3.8% in NH. In short, many employers continue to have staffing and skills gaps, but it’s much more challenging to recruit and train employees due to the ongoing effects of this year.
Like many, ApprenticeshipNH’s onsite work with employers came to a near halt in mid-March. Once some were able to come back to work, creativity was required to help our business partners put together remote or socially distanced apprenticeships. Hands-on programs such as training licensed nursing assistants (LNAs) and medical assistants (MAs) had to move to remote programming. Manufacturing companies had to redesign shop floors to handle social distancing. Hospitality programs had to take a pause. ApprenticeshipNH’s team – operating remotely – worked to adjust the strategy to the new normal internally, and figure out how to continue to promote these programs to employers and help existing partnerships move forward.
Being patient and working through these challenges did result in the launch of five new programs with Hillsborough County Nursing Home, AdvantEdge Healthcare Solution, NH Ball Bearing Peterborough, Morrison Assisted Living and Coos County Family Health Services. It also resulted in the expansion of eight existing programs with Summit Packaging, Catholic Medical Center, Spraying Systems, ARCH Medical, Senior Helpers, NH Ball Bearing Laconia, Androscoggin Valley Hospital and Palmer & Sicard.
We learned that for high demand fields such as LNAs, the challenges that faced apprenticeship in 2020 could be overcome. ApprenticeshipNH scaled up a strong LNA model in 2019 with Catholic Medical Center, who already had a strong relationship with Manchester Community College. They had built a medical assistant (MA) apprenticeship that was a quality model that was working exceptionally well. ApprenticeshipNH replicated that model, ran several more programs in 2020 in different parts of the state and with different colleges, and are excited to have planned LNA and MA apprenticeship programs with Concord Hospital, Core Physicians, and Catholic Medical Center launching in 2021.
Apprenticeship NH also learned that even though the unemployment rate skyrocketed and there were many more people out of work, it didn’t automatically equate to people being prepared to enter into an apprenticeship program. Many people were not working because their lives were drastically changed. They were home with their children learning remotely and facing new barriers around childcare and transportation. More unemployed people did not automatically equal more people being available to fill these apprenticeships spots.
In 2021, ApprenticeshipNH will launch partnerships in the first quarter with Concord Hospital and Smith Medical. Catholic Medical Center and Core Physicians also plan a new cohort of apprentices in March. In the new year, we will also build new partnerships, such as our collaboration with the NH Auto Dealers Association and CCSNH’s first Automotive Apprenticeship for Auto Technicians, scheduled to begin with the Spring ’21 semester, while also continuing to build on our newly funded youth pre-apprenticeship and apprenticeship program. ApprenticeshipNH will also re-engage with partners and strategically identify new organizations that serve populations of people who want to work, but have barriers. For example, we recently met with an organization that offers English as a second language (ESL) training, working with people who are hard workers and want a career, but need to overcome language barriers. With a growing database of companies ApprenticeshipNH has worked with, we believe we can find creative solutions to bring more people into the workplace by aligning training through an apprenticeship that would break down these types of barriers.
If your business continues to face workforce challenges or is interested in exploring apprenticeships for high school students, please contact ApprenticeshipNH. The team has used creativity and flexibility in 2020 to address many workforce challenges through apprenticeships. ApprenticeshipNH is excited to continue this important work and create and nurture partnerships that benefit employers and employees for many years to come.
Beth Doiron is the Director of College Access and Department of Education Programs and Initiatives for CCSNH and directs workforce development and college access programs that connect high school students and adult learners to NH’s community colleges. ApprenticeshipNH is designed to help individuals build the necessary soft skills required for today’s workforce. Learn more at apprenticeshipnh.com or by contacting Doiron at [email protected] or (603) 230-3530.