Apprenticeships infuse the STEM workforce | Diversity: issues in higher education

Businesses and community colleges are teaming up to train future STEM fieldworkers like Bianca Wilson, featured at the Norfolk Shipyard.In May, the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) announced a $3.4 million funding opportunity for up to nine grants to attract and retain women in registered apprenticeship programs and industries where women are underrepresented, such as cybersecurity and healthcare. A registered apprenticeship combines on-the-job training and formal instruction to enable a worker to acquire the skills and competencies necessary for gainful employment.

“There are [a] significant shortage of cybersecurity professionals,” says Dr. Dionne Miller, associate dean for academic affairs at LaGuardia Community College (LCC), a City University of New York institution that is launching a cybersecurity training program with Mastercard. “New York Labor Statistics predicts that there will be 33% growth in this field between 2020 and 2030,” she says, adding, “Collaborations with [companies] allow us to ensure that we are truly preparing students for the careers they aspire to.

Women currently represent only 13% of registered apprentices. The grants aim to increase the number of women in apprenticeships and are designed to help meet workforce needs in STEM occupations. Registered apprenticeship programs aim to increase opportunities for workers and expand talent pools for employers.

cyber security

LCC works with the New York Jobs CEO Council, a coalition of CEOs, educational institutions, and nonprofit organizations in the New York area. The council’s goal is to prepare New Yorkers from diverse low-income communities for jobs with high growth potential and pay wages that can bring them into the middle class while meeting the needs of employers.

The New York Jobs CEO Council has connected LCC to Mastercard to launch a cybersecurity training program that 20 students will attend this summer. At the end of the training program, 10 students will be selected for part-time paid apprenticeships (20 hours per week for two semesters) with Mastercard, during which they will have direct experience in combating cybersecurity threats and benefit from professional and peer mentoring. Upon successful completion, Mastercard may invite apprentices to apply for full-time positions.

“Faculty in our cybersecurity curriculum, which is called Network Administration & Information Security (launched in 2016), as well as professors in our adult and continuing education division, who have expertise in training and workforce development…worked with Mastercard’s technical professionals in designing the program that would meet the job roles they identified for apprentices,” says Miller.

“Even if our students don’t receive a job offer at the end of their apprenticeship, it will be an invaluable CV-building experience that will position them well,” she adds. “It also goes [show] large employers that students at the associate degree level are capable of filling entry-level roles in the cybersecurity field.

Miller hopes this program will establish a successful model that can be replicated with other STEM fields. LCC is forming a similar partnership with a programming and software development bank.

Statewide Support

The State University of New York (SUNY) system offers a significant number of opportunities through the SUNY Apprenticeship Program Grant. This encompasses SUNY’s 30 community colleges and select four-year institutions that coordinate with community colleges in their area. More than 150 employers across the state are participating, including Beech-Nut Nutrition, Plug Power, Knowles Precision Devices, and Fala Technologies — all companies committed to work involving STEM fields.

“The individual not only benefits from related education…,” says Johanna Duncan-Poitier, SUNY Senior Vice Chancellor for Community Colleges and Education Pipeline, “they work with a company, they get so on-the-job training, and they actually receive a salary.Duncan-Poitier explains that the program includes classroom instruction and training in a related field at no cost to the student, up to a maximum of $5,000.

Some STEM-related trade titles are electromechanical technician, electrical mechanic, machinist, millwright, and metal refinisher. SUNY, individual campuses, and employers are involved in recruiting people for learning opportunities. There is an application on the SUNY website (suny.edu/apprenticeship) that those interested in an apprenticeship can complete and submit to be matched with a company and college. SUNY also offers pre-apprenticeship training.

“Employers also use these formal apprenticeship programs to identify tenured workers, working people who may be underemployed or… who have a real ability to progress in their career path,” says Denise Zieske, director of SUNY’s workforce development. She notes that employers can “[send] it’s up to us for maybe some pre-apprenticeship training to make sure it really suits them.

SUNY receives funding from the Federal DOL and the New York State DOL. Public funds are intended for all areas in which there would be learning. Federal funds are specifically for manufacturing.

SUNY Partners with GlobalFoundries on Recorded Apprenticeships for Industrial Manufacturing Technicians. GlobalFoundries is one of the world’s largest semiconductor manufacturers with a microchip manufacturing facility in New York. Apprentices study one of many related technical fields while working in the company. Salaries are paid by GlobalFoundries, and related community college education costs are covered by SUNY through grants from federal and state labor departments.

There is a huge need for skilled technicians in chip manufacturing, according to Duncan-Poitier.

“When we first spoke with GlobalFoundries, they were just hoping at first that we would send graduates to them,” says Duncan-Poitier. “And of course we did, but the need for employees is so great that they needed to do more. People are so excited to learn and earn money.

Create opportunities in a community

Tidewater Community College (TCC) in Norfolk, Virginia has several initiatives aimed at creating a broader and more diverse STEM labor pool, including the college’s STEM Promise Program Scholarship (minority-focused). Twenty students a year receive two-year scholarships to pursue STEM studies at TCC. These diplomas lead either to careers or to transfers to four-year institutions.

The TCC Learning Institute oversees and facilitates several learning programs. The college’s largest and oldest apprenticeship program is at the Norfolk Naval Shipyard (NNS), a federal facility. Apprentices accepted into a four-year program learn an in-demand maritime trade, earn college credits and receive a competitive salary, laying the foundation for a career in the federal government.

“This program has really evolved into an academic collaboration partnership where we train students in welding, mechatronics, and HVAC (heating, ventilation, and air conditioning) to earn a trades certificate from Tidewater Community College,” says the Dr Michelle. W. Woodhouse, Vice President of Academic Affairs and Director of Studies at TCC.

Individuals work towards obtaining their journeyman’s license at the NNS, which takes about four years. There is also academic preparation which includes two nine-week sessions at the TCC. The costs of these sessions are covered, so that apprentices do not pay out of pocket.

“NNS has worked with us to create a course-based academic program and ensure students walk away with a college degree,” says Woodhouse. “At the same time, they receive their salary plus benefits for taking this apprenticeship program.”

Woodhouse considers this to be a successful partnership with a completion rate of approximately 95%. She estimates that more than 200 students per semester are engaged in this learning. To be accepted into an apprenticeship with NNS, an individual applies to a certain store, which then guides the necessary academic preparation.

“Norfolk Shipyard sees the big picture,” says Woodhouse. “The only way to build the workforce they need is to invest in them from the start.”

The academic component varies from industry to industry, and other programs involve considerably fewer apprentices than that at Norfolk Shipyard. TCC is constantly looking for partners to meet the needs and professional aspirations of students. A potential apprentice walks through the process, first meeting with the TCC Apprenticeship Coordinator to discern the individual’s interest. From there, TCC introduces the individual to various industry partners. The individual then completes the application with the company where he will perform the apprenticeship. The company specifies which study program at the TCC is required.

Apprenticeship programs impact TCC enrollment, retention, and completion, which is why it’s important to match individuals with the right companies, says Woodhouse. TCC has developed a technical writing English class that features in several learnings. As with most community colleges, necessary supports are available, such as pantry, childcare, counseling, and tutoring.

“What we take great pride in at TCC is really creating a holistic opportunity for student success,” says Woodhouse.

Michael A. Bynum