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  • Corey Lee Wilson

California’s Road to 500,000 Apprentices



In 2018, California Governor Gavin Newsom set an ambitious goal of reaching 500,000 active apprentices by 2029. He did so because apprenticeship is a proven model and clear strategy for connecting Californians to good jobs.

Reaching a half a million apprentices by 2029 will rest on a strong base of apprenticeship that will demand a more expansive and inclusive Registered Apprenticeship system, where today nearly 70 percent of Californian apprentices are racial minorities, but only 7 percent are women. Apprenticeship is a strategy that can and should be applied much more broadly across California’s workforce.

More Californians need access to what apprenticeship can uniquely offer to navigate the economic uncertainty brought on by the pandemic and the changing worlds of learning and work. The great value of Governor’s expansion goal is that it asks for a reimagining of the applications of apprenticeship in California, and as a result, the role of the state in making it happen.

The Role of State Policy

Meeting the governor’s ambitious goal requires a proactive role for state policymakers to support the expansion of the apprenticeship system. Specifically, state policymakers must take steps to close the implementation gap between the ambitious 500,000 goal and the need to mobilize and build the capacity of new and existing industry, labor, education, and regional partners. This implementation gap is most pronounced in nontraditional sectors outside of the skilled trades and firefighting.

Apprenticeship can and should be a strategy integrated within a broader agenda related to job quality, workforce and economic development, as well as postsecondary attainment. But a clear state plan for apprenticeship itself is needed to sustainably expand the system over time.

California Apprenticeship Initiative (CAI)

State policymakers do not have to start from scratch. New public investments, such as the California Apprenticeship Initiative, show nascent regional innovations and partnerships with experience to build upon. Below, is an outline of four policy strategies by which state leadership, policy, and guidance can support apprenticeship expansion:

1. Accelerate new program growth in nontraditional fields through sector intermediaries and a statewide quality framework: New industry, labor, education, and workforce partners need clear entry points into the system, flexibility to pursue innovation, and sector-focused capacity to generate efficiencies that accelerate new program development and growth.

2. Accelerate growth of apprenticeship through a regional investment strategy: Leadership, greater coordination, and dedicated capacity at the regional level is needed to support the development and sustainability of new programs across industry sectors in a way that aligns systems and makes it easier for new employers and apprentices to navigate opportunities.

3. Leverage public investment and employment to support the growth of nontraditional apprenticeship programs in critical sectors: The connection between apprenticeship and public investment must be extended to new investments in digital infrastructure, public services, and the state and local government workforce.

4. Design and implement a statewide strategy for connecting youth to apprenticeship opportunities that advance their career and education goals: Clearer connections for youth to apprenticeship opportunities will help catalyze greater alignment between apprenticeship and the state K-12, K-14, higher education, and workforce systems that serve millions of Californians.

Apprenticeship Can Improve the Economic and Educational Outcomes of Californians

Furthermore, some of these policy directions in the near-term can be advanced by leaders other than state policymakers. Philanthropy, industry groups, employer champions, and regional partnerships, as well as individual community colleges, school districts, and local workforce boards all have a role to play in initiating and continuing to demonstrate the potential of apprenticeship to improve the economic and educational outcomes of Californians.

While there are near-term opportunities to advance specific priorities, these policy ideas are interconnected to support a more expansive and inclusive Registered Apprenticeship system. A clear quality framework for nontraditional apprenticeship programs sets the rules and expectations for a system that promotes innovation while also ensuring rigor.

Sector Intermediaries Are Critical For Making That Innovation Happen

Sector intermediaries are critical for making that innovation happen, creating the space for industry to lead and develop programs recognized and valued by employers across regions. The success of these sector intermediaries (like CLW Enterprises), however, depends on employer, education, and workforce partners working together at the regional level. Regional consortia with the capacity to support apprenticeship programs across multiple industry sectors are key to developing a visible ecosystem for local employers, workers, and students to connect with.

The potential impact of these policies on California’s workers, students, and communities could be transformative. Realizing a system that serves 500,00 active apprentices annually by 2029 would mean a half of a million Californians earning fair wages, earning debt-free postsecondary credentials, and billions of dollars of new private investment in the development of a globally competitive workforce.”

Reaching 500,000 will also mean thousands of new employers, unions, industry groups, colleges, and community-based organizations across California working together, aligning resources, pushing on polices to develop programs that better deliver for apprentices and employer sponsors. Partnerships across the state will have the programs and strategies in place needed not only to serve California’s 500,000th apprentice in 2029, but also the cohorts of apprentices each year that come after.

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