Academic journal article Public Personnel Management

Apprenticeship Training in the Public Sector: Its Use and Operation for Meeting Skilled Craft Needs

Academic journal article Public Personnel Management

Apprenticeship Training in the Public Sector: Its Use and Operation for Meeting Skilled Craft Needs

Article excerpt

This article explores in a preliminary way the past and current use of apprenticeship training in the public sector. In particular, it looks at reasons why it has been or is becoming popular with some government employers for training in the skilled, blue-collar professions. Specific apprenticeship experiences in the public sector are described, including the potential benefits and drawbacks.

The use of apprenticeship programs has long been a viable tool in the private sector for training workers for certain blue-collar, skilled craft jobs (Rorabaugh, 1986; Committee on Education and Labor, 1984; Joint Report, 1976; Marshall and Briggs, 1967, 1968; Kursh, 1965.)(1)In the public sector, however, apprenticeship training, overall, has been relatively less popular primarily because of fundamental differences between the nature of public and private sector work. Nonetheless, some government employers have either been relying upon apprenticeship training for years to fulfill their skilled craft needs or are just now beginning to develop and implement such programs.

This article explores in a preliminary way the past and current use of apprenticeship training in the public sector. It begins with a general overview of the purpose and operation of apprenticeship training and then compares the use of apprenticeships in the public and private sectors. It also looks at reasons why it has been or is becoming popular with some government employers for training in the skilled, blue collar professions. Specific apprenticeship experiences in the public sector are described. In addition, the potential benefits and drawbacks of apprenticeship are presented. Because this issue has received relatively little scholarly attention by the public personnel profession, this paper is necessarily descriptive in its focus.

The Purpose and Nature of Apprenticeship Training Programs

Apprenticeship is a system of training for the skilled crafts or trades (e.g., plumbers, electricians, auto mechanics, etc.). It combines classroom study with anywhere from one to six years of on-the-job training under the supervision of an experienced craft or journey worker so that the apprentice can acquire the skill and knowledge associated with or needed for a particular craft (Joint Report, 1976).

Apprenticeship training is not new to this country. The tradition was first transferred to America from England around 1619 and involved the indenturing of both boys and girls from almshouses of London to farm owners in America (Abbott, 1938). Today, apprenticeship training is much more prestigious and lucrative mainly because of the strict entry and work standards developed and maintained by apprenticeship sponsors.(2)

The use of apprenticeship training is governed and regulated by the 1937 National Apprenticeship Training Act (the Fitzgerald Act). The law is intended to "promote more apprenticeship programs...and to encourage the use of the highest standards in apprenticeship training programs...Its purpose is only to promote voluntary cooperation between industry and labor, and to offer technical assistance and guidance" (Kursh, 1965: 41). The Fitzgerald Act is administered by the Labor Department's Bureau of Apprenticeship and Training (BAT).

In some states, apprenticeship training may be administered by a state apprenticeship council (SAC). SACs generally work in conjunction with the BAT, but assume greater control over apprenticeship programs in their respective states. Needless to say, there is a good deal of overlap between BAT and SAC functions (Marshall and Briggs, 1968).

Perhaps a key and relatively unique characteristic of apprenticeship training programs at least in the private sector is that they are typically operated and managed jointly by labor and management through, for example, joint apprenticeship committees (JACs). Moreover, depending upon the trade, unions rather than management may have greater control over entry into as well as the overall operation of the apprenticeship program. …

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