by Emma Schwartz, Editor in Chief, TAD Talks Newsletter
After reading your recent newsletter article “Stuck in a Higher Education Box” I began thinking about my own journey in the world of work and started to examine why, as a person who realized quickly after high school that college would not be my path, I had not sought out Apprenticeship opportunities. I also found myself compiling a grocery list of wants about what I had always wished was available to me in my previous careers and the following is what I realized:
As a young female in High School and even today, 20+ years later, when I hear “apprenticeship” I think of a predominantly male adjective with few opportunities for women. In my mind, Apprenticeships were available to those men and a few women who wanted a blue collar careers like, Construction, Plumbing or Automotive. None of these were career options that I personally had a desire to pursue. I’ve never heard the term apprenticeship used in relation to a career path in any of my personal fields of interest which leads me to question, did these apprenticeship opportunities exist and I was merely unaware of them? If this was the case how the heck do I find them now and is it too late to jump on that opportunity?
As a female whose education does not go beyond graduating high school, I have always had an awareness and belief that I would have to work harder than those who held degrees in order to prove to that I was capable of doing the job. I believed that the only way for me to gain experience and education in a field of interest was to either “Intern or Volunteer” which to me meant “work for free” and this was not something I could afford to do. As a result of not having attained a college degree or gone through an apprenticeship program, I am use to using the phrase “I am willing to work from the ground floor up” in order to be given an opportunity. Even with this attitude of willingness I’ve received my share of employer rejections due to “my lack of combined education and experience”. I carry many years of professional work experience with skills from differing fields, which if nothing else are transferrable and many of which are not taught in a classroom setting. Starting over at the bottom and taking a major pay decrease has become a necessary evil if I want to make a career move in the hopes of future advancement beyond my current company or position.
I worked for many years as a Barista for a major coffee and tea company that operates in the state of California. I worked my way up through the ranks into various stages of management opening new locations and even became a Trainer for new management where I set up complex coffee and tea tastings. I was passionate about coffee! I wanted desperately to become a coffee buyer. After approaching my boss about this possibility, I was saddened to learn that this was not an available career path. I was shocked that no apprenticeship or training was available within such a major organization. I learned that there were only two coffee buyers for the whole company and only a few “Master Tasters” in the world. An apprenticeship would require a trip half way around the world, years of unpaid labor and probably a lock of their hair dipped in coffee and wrapped into a voodoo doll to make it a reality.
I moved into the workforce industry later as a way of helping people who much like myself have experienced barriers to obtaininglong term employment in a sustainable career. Many of the successes I have witnessed have been job placements with small businesses who were willing to “give someone a chance” and train the employee on the job. Whether my beliefs about the lack of opportunities available for women in general, or women like me are fact or fiction, I would love to know if there are available Apprenticeship Opportunities that exist specifically for women who have an interest in I.T. fields, Interests in Writing and Editing, or in any of the thousands of Customer Service Industries. Oh, and if TAD Grants comes across an Apprenticeship in Master Coffee Tasting I know of at least one workforce professional who would love to take the LEAP!
by Tressa A. Dorsey, President, TAD Grants
Your response to “Stuck in a Higher Education Box” from the first issue of TAD Talks underscores my concerns about the downgrading of apprenticeships and their limited use at a time when there is a serious need for their improvement and expansion.
The desire to have a workforce comprised of only college educated degree holders has left major skill and knowledge gaps in some of our core industries. Journey workers in the automotive and construction industries, for example, are retiring and leaving huge voids in the existing workforce. They not only leave a void of skills, but more importantly, the knowledge than can only be gained after years of integrated workplace education and the application of skills; the mainstay of apprenticeship models! More to your point, the retail industry has one of the highest turnover rates of all industries. Why? Because it is often seen as a transition or entry level job, rather than a viable career path. What if instead of saying, I’m working as a cashier until I finish my degree and get a better job”, we supported retail businesses to grow their talent internally through relevant curriculum, skills development courses and hands on experience? Wouldn’t this save the industry thousands if not millions over the course of time? Wouldn’t it also keep that workforce involved in the life-long learning mindset that is becoming a critical necessity of the 21st century world of work?
A primary responsibility of the workforce profession is to build our workforce into the most highly skilled, efficient and cost effective group of workers possible so as to help our businesses thrive in a regional and/or global economy. Apprenticeship is not an alternative for those who couldn’t make it in college. Apprenticeship is a model we as workforce professionals need to make accessible to businesses and individuals as an alternative and equally viable path to careers and economic growth.
TAD Grants feels strongly that this severely under-appreciated and under-utilized mode of higher education is absolutely essential for the overall socio-economic health of our country. Rather than continue with its minimal use, TAD Grants will be supporting efforts to strengthen and expand Apprenticeships to serve many critical arenas of developing industries and a host of employee populations. Coffee Master, we are interested in assisting you in your quest; as long as you are in the workforce, it is never too late.
We are also anxious to receive information from other newsletter readers and colleagues as to your experiences with Apprenticeships and your ideas on what might be done to elevate this educational method to a respectful societal standard. Please send your information and comments.
by Anne C. Adams, MSW
Improving the high school graduation rate and expanding the participation levels in higher education have been goals of education for well over a century and our expectation is that they will and should continue to be primary objectives. At the same time, it is important that these goals don’t ‘box in’ service providers or limit opportunities for customers as we work with them in building sustainable pathways for success in the world of work.
As an African-American woman, born in the northeast during the first half of the last century, pathways to success and the middle-class were for the most part limited to pursuing a college degree. I can recall a conversation with one of my daughter’s high school teachers who was concerned that I was being overbearing regarding directing her education in that same direction. Her comment to me was that “college was not for everyone”; this despite the fact that she was attending a rather pricey private prep school. I remember replying to her that I wish that was true; that she had other choices that were realistic and lucrative. But in reality, that was not the case for a black child at that time. Happily, thirty plus years later, I can take my words back. College is not for everybody, but enough education or training to maintain yourself above the poverty level is a necessity.
Our society is experiencing an amazing period of transformation. Technology has drastically changed the world and it is a fast moving, multifaceted, change-engine that forces us to rapidly adapt. Just as we are tackling the problem of improving high school graduation rates, the need for a higher minimum level of education is apparent. Currently, twelve plus two seems to be a reasonable standard. High School plus two additional years of formal education or training with strong curricula that are currently viable and assure a foundation for future growth and development. We must be sure that the decisions we guide our customers to today, are adaptable to continuing change and flexible within the systems they are operating. In that light, high school and traditional higher education are clearly not a big enough box. How do we grow and change, building upon these foundational structures and widening the pathways for greater inclusiveness? What is that old saying, “the more things change, the more they stay the same”? This discussion takes us directly to Apprenticeships and their viability to serve many more people in making twelve plus two a reality. Stay tuned for a future, extensive discussion of Apprenticeships and their viability within the 21st century workplace. Workforce Development Professionals must take leadership in creating pathways and partner with our educational and economic development systems to interpret the needs of both the population and the business community to assure these needs are met. It is a huge challenge. Likewise, however, it validates our profession and creates tremendous opportunities for its growth and development. TAD Grants endeavors to be on the “cutting edge” of these demands for growth and change. We are always interested in knowing how we can assist your organization in its efforts to be high performing and ready to meet the needs of your constituents. Let us know how we can help.