Isn’t it ironic that repairing and strengthening Maine’s economy amidst a contemporary economic crisis may require taking our cue from history? That’s what first crossed my mind while reading New America’s new report, The Road to 500,000 Apprentices.

Apprenticeships, which have been part of our economy since the Colonial era, represent an important strategy as we work toward Maine’s educational attainment goal that 60% of adults hold a credential of value by 2025. With a rising appreciation for career and technical education (CTE), the U.S. has begun looking anew to apprenticeship programs as a workforce-preparedness strategy over the last decade. Further, amidst a fragile Maine economy with distraught small businesses and record numbers of furloughed employees, apprenticeship programs could be more beneficial than ever. These programs have the potential to prepare Mainers for a variety of critical job opportunities that will be part of the evolving labor market. And, through mentorship and relationship-building, they can help apprentices generate social capital and find purpose.

For employers, apprenticeships can help meet the demand of an anticipated 158,000 additional job openings by 2025 that will require a specialized skill set or postsecondary credentials. With Maine’s employers already reporting high levels of concern about the availability of professional workers, skilled technical workers, and entry-level workers, it is clear that there is still much to do to develop the well-qualified workforce we’ll need for healthy economic growth.

Apprenticeships can be a useful tool to help bridge this gap. But what are apprenticeships exactly?

Appreticeships are paid, long-term, on-the-job training experiences that lead to employment. They typically include a coursework component, rely heavily on mentors, and provide beneficiaries with practical, specialized skills that are needed for their specific career paths. Today these programs function across a wide variety of industries, from digital infrastructure to state and local government.

Importantly, apprenticeships provide postsecondary credentials to a diverse workforce without additional training costs for the student. These programs also often disproportionately benefit some of our most underserved populations. Those populations include Mainers who are looking for a promising new career path after finding limited professional success elsewhere, adults looking to transition into a new career, and others who use the opportunity to move to or return to the state to learn, work, and live here.

Bath Iron Work’s apprenticeship programs, which trains carpenters, electricians, machinists, pipefitters and welders, have been around since 1950. Today, BIW’s apprenticeship programs can be equated to as much as a $250,000 scholarship. Apprentices are paid while they learn, and can also earn a college degree while launching into a shipbuilding career.

We’ve learned that the path forward would require intentional, collaborative action from the legislature, businesses, schools, and organizations like Educate Maine. The New America report outlines steps the California legislature needs to take to successfully create the half million apprenticeship opportunities that the state would like to create by the end of the decade.

The report demonstrates four key ways to accelerate growth of apprenticeships in any state. 1) Implement structures such as a statewide quality framework. 2) Develop a regional apprenticeship investment and coordination strategy. 3) Support nontraditional apprenticeship programs for in-demand sectors. 4) Finally, maintain a student-centered focus by creating a statewide strategy for connecting youth to apprenticeship opportunities that advance their career and education goals. We have seen early successes with apprenticeships in construction trades and healthcare in Maine, but we need to grow the sector support in other areas in collaboration with the Maine Department of Labor.

If we establish a robust talent pipeline through the advent of apprenticeship programs across the state, Maine will be better prepared to achieve workforce equilibrium and economic prosperity in years to come. But achieving that goal requires that we seriously invest today in new programs while simultaneously enhancing existing high-quality programs: programs such as Bridge Academy Maine, a cutting-edge course of study that blends career and technical education with early college experience. The impact of Bridge Academy Maine on its students can easily serve as a model for other institutions like it; Bridge graduates complete college earlier with less student debt and are more likely to stay in Maine to work and live. In other words, graduates are set up to succeed and settle down here. We’d like to see this potent formula replicated throughout Maine.

We know apprenticeships work. We just need them — and their beneficiaries — to work together to scale these models across Maine.

Jason Judd is the executive director of Educate Maine, whose mission is to champion career readiness by increasing the educational attainment of Maine people, enabling all students to succeed in postsecondary education and in the workplace.

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