By Mary Wurtz and Trey Delida

The Council of State Governments and the Urban Institute have earned funding from Ascendium Education Group to expand civic sector apprenticeship programs focused on low-income rural learners in Idaho and Maine. CSG and Urban will provide resources, guidance, technical assistance and incentive funding to support state and local agencies in developing apprenticeships to meet their workforce needs, and in recruiting, enrolling and supporting low-income rural apprentices.

CSG will support these states in developing apprenticeships to address growing workforce shortages in the civic sector. State and local governments are struggling to fill open positions and retain employees long-term. The sharpest monthly decline on record in state and local government employment took place in early 2020. This decline was a continuation of existing trends in the public sector.

According to Andrew Campbell, policy program associate with Urban Institute’s Research to Action Lab, believes that apprenticeships are the solution to this decline.

“Public sector apprenticeships are a potent and often overlooked tool for workforce and economic development,” he said. “When state and local governments create apprenticeship opportunities for hard-to-fill or high-turnover roles, they benefit from an unconventional source of talent. In turn, apprentices benefit by earning wages, learning new skills, attaining industry-recognized credentials, and building valuable work experience.”

Urban Institute has an extensive background in apprenticeship development. In fact, they have served as an apprenticeship intermediary, which means they have helped numerous sponsors across the nation develop, implement and operate an apprenticeship program.

These programs have specifically targeted underserved or at-risk populations. Their work has aided in the development of skills for under-resourced communities in preparation for the workforce. This preparation integrates those underserved communities or those without access to higher education to maintain a healthy workforce.

The “silver tsunami,” or the increasing percentage of state workers reaching retirement age, has led to a massive wave of departures from the public sector, including 28.6 million workers alone in the third quarter of 2020. Civic sector apprenticeships will continue to be a key strategy for state and local governments to address these workforce gaps because apprenticeship opportunities lead to increased retention of employees, ensure workers have the right skills and reduce liability costs through appropriate training of workers.

Apprenticeships combine paid on-the-job training with classroom instruction to prepare workers for highly skilled careers in a variety of occupations in addition to the traditional trades. State and local governments are beginning to use apprenticeships to fill civic sector positions in health care, information technology and human resources in addition to construction and electrical technician roles. Federal, state and local government agencies can administer these programs as apprenticeship sponsors, taking responsibility for the recruitment and on-the-job training of apprentices. Sponsors then partner with local community colleges and other education centers to offer coursework to supplement on-the-job apprentice learning.

“Apprenticeships are a great path to economic mobility,” said Elise Gurney, project manager at CSG’s Center of Innovation. “Apprenticeships can help states fill their workforce needs, which there are a lot of right now.”

Apprenticeships can be a useful tool for government agencies to hire members of historically underserved populations. This is especially true for low-income individuals with fewer avenues to economic mobility since apprentices pay little or nothing for training and earn wages throughout the apprenticeship. This project focuses on low-income learners in Idaho and Maine living in rural areas where state and local governments report high workforce needs.

“A lot of potential apprenticeship sponsors just aren’t aware of how the process works. They need support and that support can be provided through policy,” Gurney said.

In 2021, CSG and Urban convened the Public Sector Apprenticeship Consortium with California, Colorado, Idaho, Maine, Michigan and Virginia to equip and empower policymakers to develop and implement apprenticeships in their state agencies. The initiative brought together legislators and executive branch officials to discuss existing apprenticeship efforts in their states and create an action plan for developing public sector apprenticeships. Through this civic sector apprenticeship expansion, CSG will extend its consortium efforts to include workforces in Idaho and Maine to support states’ initiatives to use apprenticeships to fill public sector positions.

Senior Policy Associate at Urban Institute’s Center on Labor, Human Services and Population, John Marotta explains that Idaho and Maine face similar struggles when it comes to their rural workforce and apprenticeships could be the solution.

“Idaho and Maine were both committed members of the Public Sector Consortium, which brought together 6 states to support new civic sector apprenticeships at the state level. We know that county and municipal governments also struggle to attract and retain the next generation of public sector workers. As we sought to expand apprenticeship opportunities and create onramps to good jobs in rural, low-income communities, Maine and Idaho were both eager to continue partnering to address these talent challenges.”

Over the next three years, CSG and Urban will collaborate with apprenticeship stakeholders in Idaho and Maine to:

  • Assemble state teams focused on developing new civic sector apprenticeships. Teams will consist of sponsor agencies and organizations providing related instruction and support to apprentices.
  • Train and guide state team members in overcoming key challenges in developing and operating apprenticeships, including aligning registered apprenticeship and civil service requirements.
  • Identify localities and positions for apprenticeships, including locations with high concentrations of low-income rural learners and high-quality jobs
  • Develop and register 3-4 new civic sector apprenticeship programs in each state.
  • Enroll and support 20-25 low-income rural apprentices in newly created programs in each state.

For more information, please contact Elise Gurney ([email protected]), Dina Klimkina ([email protected]) or Mary Wurtz ([email protected]).

About Our Partners

Founded in 1933, The Council of State Governments (CSG) is the nation’s largest nonpartisan organization serving state elected and appointed officials in all three branches. The mission of CSG is to champion excellence in state government and the organization executes that mission through four major platforms: the CSG National Office, CSG Regional Offices, the CSG Justice Center and affiliated organizations.

The Urban Institute is a nonprofit research organization that provides data and evidence to help advance upward mobility and equity. Urban is a trusted source for changemakers who seek to strengthen decision-making, create inclusive economic growth and improve the well-being of families and communities. For more than 50 years, Urban has delivered facts that inspire solutions.

Ascendium Education Group is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization committed to helping people reach the education and career goals that matter to them. Ascendium invests in initiatives designed to increase the number of students from low-income backgrounds who complete postsecondary degrees, certificates and workforce training programs, with an emphasis on first-generation students, incarcerated adults, rural community members, students of color and veterans. Ascendium’s work identifies, validates and expands best practices to promote large-scale change at the institutional, system and state levels, with the intention of elevating opportunity for all.

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