Alternatives to the traditional four-year university are getting the attention of the General Assembly. The House and Senate have set aside serious funding for workforce development programs. Gov. Roy Cooper’s budget mentioned apprenticeship programs as well but didn’t put up as much money.
Lawmakers made commitments to specific programs, while the governor’s plan included $500,000 each year of the two-year budget cycle to increase apprenticeship programs generally across the state.
The 2016 Employer Needs Survey, conducted by the NCWorks Commission, documents the challenges employers face when hiring. The survey revealed the manufacturing and construction industries having more difficulty filling positions than any other industry in the state. Employers surveyed also cited lack of work experience, education, technical skills, and soft skills as the main sources of those challenges.
The state runs programs including ApprenticeshipNC and NCWorks Career Coaches. They not only look to connect employers with students, but also help equip students with the skills and work experience employers want, said Rep. Craig Horn, R-Union, chairman of the House Education Committee. He said the Construction Industry Workforce Training program, proposed in the House budget, would address specific issues of the construction industry raised in the Employer Needs Survey.
Details of the recently passed House budget highlight the contrasts in approach between the two legislative bodies and the governor.
• Transferring the Education and Workforce Innovation Program from the governor’s office to the Department of Public Instruction. House and Senate budget: $2 million in each fiscal year. Governor’s budget: no transfer.
• Transferring ApprenticeshipNC management from the Department of Commerce to the Community College Board. House and Senate budget: $1.3 million in first year; $850,000 in second year. Governor’s budget: no transfer.
• NCWorks Career Coaches. House budget: $1.1 million each fiscal year. Senate budget: $1.1 million first year; $1.8 million second year. Governor’s budget: no specified funding.
• Community College Workforce Training Cost Study. Funding a study to determine costs for workforce training courses and evaluate ApprenticeshipNC program. House budget: $200,000 first year. Senate budget: $98,000 first year. Governor’s budget: nothing.
• Funds to help colleges pay start-up expenses for high-cost workforce programs. House budget: $2 million first year; $2.5 million second year. Senate budget: $0 first year; $3 million second year. Governor’s budget: nothing.
The House budget also includes $3 million in the 2018-19 fiscal year to establish a pilot apprenticeship program, the Eastern Triad Workforce Development Initiative. And it has $200,000 for the construction industry apprenticeship program.
The decision to move the ApprenticeshipNC program from the Department of Commerce to the Community College Board and the Education and Workforce Innovation Program from the governor’s office to DPI is meant to more closely link workforce development and education. Horn explained that transferring the programs to education departments follows a nationwide trend.
“I’m pretty sure these programs in most states are actually handled by local community colleges, because they are the folks that are training people for the jobs that are immediately available, which is the whole concept behind apprenticeship programs,” said Horn, who chairs the House Education Committee. “Our community colleges in North Carolina have been particularly responsive to the needs of employers. The apprenticeship program — in our opinion — naturally fits into that environment.”
Apprenticeship programs are not without their challenges, says Terry Stoops, director of research and education studies at the John Locke Foundation.
“As we begin to retool North Carolina’s apprenticeship programs, we must remember that apprenticeships are not always a ‘win-win’ for apprentices and employers,” Stoops said. “While apprenticeships usually benefit trainees, participating businesses incur significant costs that are not always recouped through subsequent employment of the apprentice.”
Stoops advises legislators to make sure employers are willing participants for these programs and that their concerns are addressed.