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Transforming Apprenticeships: Exploring Innovative Strategies in the Capital Region

By Gustavo Garcia & Hilary Tellesen

California has an ambitious goal of expanding apprenticeships to serve half a million people by 2029. To achieve this, the state needs to create more opportunities and pathways for non-traditional and youth apprentices, especially those from historically underrepresented groups. This was the main theme of the “Nurturing Talent, Building Futures” event, hosted by Valley Vision, SETA and SMUD on February 6, 2024 at the SMUD Customer Service Center. 

The event brought together workforce advocates, program experts, and industry leaders to exchange ideas and resources on how to develop and implement effective apprenticeship programs in the region. Evan Schmidt, CEO of Valley Vision, opened the event by highlighting the importance of collaborative efforts to support inclusive economic development in Sacramento and surrounding counties. Schmidt also pointed out the role of apprenticeships in advancing the California Jobs First initiative, which aims to foster a more equitable and resilient economy. 

Dave Tamayo, SMUD Director from Ward 6, welcomed the participants and urged them to find new ways to connect with diverse groups of people and offer them access to emerging career opportunities in the clean energy sector. He also stressed that SMUD is committed to supporting inclusive workforce efforts as part of its 2030 Zero Carbon Plan

The keynote speaker, Amie Bergen, Chief of the Apprenticeship and Workforce Innovation Unit at the Department of Apprenticeship Standards, gave an overview of the benefits and features of registered apprenticeships, which are industry-approved programs that provide nationally recognized credentials, on-the-job training, and progressive wages. She also introduced the California Opportunity Youth Apprenticeship Grant, a new funding source currently accepting applications that aims to increase the participation of opportunity youth in pre-apprenticeship and apprenticeship programs. 

Following the keynote address, Renee John, Managing Director at Valley Vision, moderated a panel discussion with regional program experts, who shared their insights and best practices on designing and delivering innovative apprenticeship programs. Throughout these discussions, apprenticeships were acknowledged as being one of the most effective workforce development tools. Panelists agreed building a pipeline of skilled workers for high-paying careers was crucial, and that  should start as early as possible for young people. 

Panelists discussed challenges faced in developing apprenticeships including employer engagement, students’ needs for wraparound support, and working with unions.  Additionally, meeting folks where they are was a recurring theme. This referred to the location and modality of instruction, as well as the need to provide wraparound support to help individuals succeed through the phases of apprenticeship training. Whether English and math competency, reliable transportation, or specific schedule needs, panelists reflected on how implementing innovative strategies to address these is critical to expanding access to youth and traditionally underserved populations. 

Specific to youth apprenticeships, panelists indicated that while many employers are interested in them, their focus is mainly on college-age individuals between the ages of 18-24, and they seldom open their doors to youth under 18. Some of the challenges shared were employers are less accommodating to high school schedules, they would rather not deal with child labor laws, and have preconceived notions on youths’ abilities to consistently perform in a work environment. 

Following the presentations and panel discussion, guests were invited to join breakout sessions to network and form connections to strategize and advance career pipeline efforts. The breakout sessions were in the industry sectors of green jobs, public sector, mental and behavioral health, and education/early childhood education. Participants shared challenges including finding experienced instructors, the need for wraparound support services within funding mechanisms, challenges with employer engagement, and integrating trauma-informed practices. 

The event wrapped up with a call to action with attendees urged to take advantage of the resources and opportunities available, and continue collaboration.  Investing in the talent and potential of our diverse community members and next generation is key to achieving California’s goal of expanding apprenticeships to serve half a million people by 2029, ultimately building a brighter future for everyone.

If you missed the event on non-traditional and youth apprenticeships, don’t worry! Catch the recap on Valley Vision’s YouTube page.