Have you invited a woman to join apprenticeship today?

School for Workers at the 27th Biennial Wisconsin Apprenticeship Conference
By: Heidi Wagner, Assistant Professor, University of Wisconsin-Madison School for Workers

Wisconsin has been the national leader in developing and supporting apprenticeship. This year, March 11-13 in Madison, the Department of Workforce Development/Bureau of Apprenticeship Standards and the Wisconsin Apprenticeship Advisory Council held the 27th Biennial Apprenticeship Conference. This conference, themed #WorkforceNEXT, brought together workers from government, business, non-profits, unions, and the education sector from across the state. Participants and presenters discussed best practices for our future workforce centering on apprenticeship as the training tool for new employees. Sessions covered a range of topics including youth apprenticeship, pre-apprenticeship, recruitment, and mentoring.

There is a phrase something along the lines that, “Apprenticeship is the best kept secret.” Today, apprenticeship needs to be front and center as an option for training that can lead to high-paid, high-skilled careers. Further, the union sector has consistently been a leader in providing quality apprenticeships leading to family-wage careers. Expanding participation in apprenticeship is one way to expand the numbers of workers represented by unions. There’s also clear data supporting the earn-while-you-learn model of apprenticeship. Costs during apprenticeship to learners are often minimal, and, in the best apprenticeship programs, wages plus benefits such as health insurance are provided. Then, lifetime earnings after completing apprenticeship are comparable to or exceed many individuals with four-year university degrees.

While women are just under 50% of U.S. workers today, they are a small fraction of participants in apprenticeships. The majority of women are working in a limited range of occupations and comprise 2/3 of the lowest paid workers. I highlighted these numbers in my presentations at the March conference, with the tagline, “You’re missing the other 50%”. The first session centered on recruiting women into apprenticeship within the building trades, and the second session discussed retention of women in those apprenticeships.

Both of the presentations used data I collected from a recent questionnaire where building construction tradeswomen gave responses to a myriad of questions relating to their experiences working in the trades. For example, regarding information around how women found their way into the building trades, 28% of tradeswomen said they entered the trades when someone invited them to apply for a position; 23% said they joined by way of a pre-apprenticeship program; 8% said they answered an ad promoting building trades work. This indicates word-of-mouth is still a strong recruitment method for apprenticeship. One suggestion for a next step: A marketing initiative asking, have you invited a woman to join apprenticeship today?