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How Apprenticeships Can Help Solve Your Diversity Problem

Skye Schooley
Skye Schooley

Learn what an inclusive apprenticeship program is and how it can help your organization.

College is dead. OK, not really, but today many young people are choosing hands-on training opportunities and alternative career routes instead of attending four-year colleges with unpalatable sticker prices. One educational career trend that has risen in popularity in recent years is apprenticeship. There were more than 578,000 active apprenticeships last year, a 5 percent increase from the year prior, according to data from

Apprenticeships are great for young people who are eager to learn a skill or trade, but did you know they can also be beneficial to your business? If you’re interested in building on your company’s diversity and inclusion efforts, offering an inclusive apprenticeship program may be the golden ticket you need to take your DEI initiatives to the next level.

What is an apprenticeship?

An apprenticeship is a long-term paid learning opportunity that individuals aged 16 years and older can use to gain on-the-job training in their chosen fields. Apprenticeships are most common among skilled trade industries like manufacturing, agriculture, construction, energy and transportation (i.e., blue-collar sectors). However, other industries like cybersecurity, healthcare, education, IT and financial services (i.e., white-collar sectors) frequently offer apprenticeships as well. 

Apprenticeships typically range between one and five years long. This gives the apprentice ample time to gain the skills, experience and qualifications they need to effectively take on a specific occupation upon completion. Per UCAS, the Universities and College Admissions Service, roughly 90 percent of apprenticeships end in a full-time job offer after program graduation, which is not only great for the apprentices, but also for the employers who trained them.


Hosting an apprenticeship is not the same as offering an employee training program. Be sure you don’t scare workers with this employment TRAP.

Apprenticeships vs. internships

You’re probably wondering how an apprenticeship is different from an internship since they both offer on-the-job experience. Below, we break down a few of the main contrasts.

  • Duration: Apprenticeships are typically long-term (one to five years), whereas internships are typically short-term (one to five months).
  • Program structure: Apprentice programs are typically more structured and focused than internships. They provide the apprentice with training for specific skills as opposed to general work experience.
  • Credentials: Apprenticeships can result in an apprentice earning industry-recognized credentials and expertise, whereas internships typically do not.
  • Mentorship: Apprentices can expect to receive one-on-one training from an experienced mentor throughout their program, whereas internships do not guarantee mentorship.
  • Pay and job opportunities: Apprenticeships are paid opportunities that typically result in a job offer. Internships can be paid or unpaid, and they don’t guarantee future employment.

Students can receive college credit through both apprenticeships and internships.

What are the benefits of inclusive apprenticeships?

An inclusive apprenticeship is one that supports a wide range of applicants in a way that encourages diverse people to participate. Developing an inclusive apprenticeship program can prove advantageous for your organization. Some common benefits you can anticipate include better recruitment, improved DEI, worker upskilling and increased retention.

Inclusive apprenticeships are great for recruitment.

Creating an inclusive apprenticeship program is a great way to get a wide variety of talent into your workforce pipeline early on. Although many job postings list a bachelor’s degree as a standard requirement, many roles can be fulfilled just as effectively by someone who has hands-on experience instead.

If you only hire college-educated workers, you limit your business by not tapping the potential of candidates who might not have the ability to attend college due to the cost. Moreover, studies have repeatedly proven that poverty and low socioeconomic status disproportionately affect ethnic and racial minorities. If you remove that degree requirement and welcome apprenticeships instead, you can cast a broader recruiting net and potentially recruit top talent that otherwise might have been overlooked. [Find out more reasons why you should hire someone without a college degree.]

Inclusive apprenticeships help close skills gaps.

As someone begins their career or transitions into a new field, it’s natural for them to lack some of the experience or industry knowledge you’re likely looking for in an employee. However, those things can be taught on the job, and just because someone has past work experience or a formal education doesn’t necessarily mean they will be a good worker anyway.

Instead, you may want to favor attitude over experience when hiring, and the same is true for apprenticeships. Traits like coachability, emotional intelligence and motivation can’t necessarily be taught, but they’re common among the most successful employees. Specific technical skills, while essential, can be learned on the job. An inclusive apprenticeship program can be a reliable way to get workers with great attitudes and limited technical experience or education in your recruitment pipeline with little risk. Then you can have other employees mentor and train them to close their skills gaps. It’s much easier to change someone’s skill level than their attitude.

Inclusive apprenticeships supplement your DEI efforts.

The loose acceptance requirements for apprenticeship programs make them easily accessible to people across diverse economic and racial backgrounds, and they give you access to a larger variety of applicants. Regarding whom you can hire to become an apprentice, your options are endless. The only legal requirement is they must be at least 16 years old (except for some hazardous industries that require workers to be a minimum of 18 years old). There are no maximum age limits and no requirements in terms of race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender identity, ability and so on.

Even apprenticeship education requirements often have a low threshold for entry; most programs only require a high school diploma or an equivalent. With such minimal stipulations, employers can create inclusive apprenticeship programs that accept applicants regardless of their backgrounds.

Giving all people (including women, minorities and people with disabilities) the ability to apply and participate in an apprenticeship program helps break the barrier to entry in your field, and it helps close any skills gaps that may exist. Even if you already embrace diversity, equity and inclusion in your workplace, apprenticeships are another great way to enhance DEI within your organization.

Did You Know?

A study of diversity, equity and inclusion in the United States found that only 24 percent of the industries we researched satisfactorily represented both women and people of color. Diversity was particularly absent in the energy, utilities and manufacturing sectors. Inclusive apprenticeships can help these fields become more diverse.

Inclusive apprenticeships can improve retention rates. 

If you calculate your employee turnover rate and cringe at the results, it’s probably time to do something about it. While there are many reasons employees quit, one of the primary factors is a lack of learning and development opportunities. But when you create an inclusive apprenticeship program, you foster a culture of learning and growth at your organization, which makes people want to stick around.

An apprenticeship program is also a great way to build employee loyalty and retention from the jump. While it’s not necessarily a guarantee that your apprentices will want to work for you after they graduate from their apprenticeship, the majority of apprenticeship programs do end in a job offer. If your apprentice decides to accept your offer, there is a good chance they will appreciate that you invested in their training and develop a sense of long-term loyalty toward your company.

How do you create an inclusive apprenticeship program?

Although apprenticeships are on the rise, data indicates that most participants are still predominantly white (60 percent) and male (85 percent). Creating an inclusive apprenticeship program can help diversify your workforce and set participants up for success.

Developing an inclusive apprenticeship program is similar to the way you would develop an inclusive workplace in general. Following inclusive hiring practices is essential. Here are a few easy steps to get started.

  1. Designate the right business leaders in your organization to lead the program.
  2. Outline clear goals for the program and its participants.
  3. Acquire all the resources and training materials you will need for the program.
  4. Create inclusive apprenticeship descriptions and announcements.
  5. Share your program information where it can be easily discovered by prospective candidates.
  6. Use inclusive interviewing and onboarding techniques that avoid things like gender bias and other unconscious biases to welcome candidates into the program.

After your apprenticeship program is implemented, you can frequently evaluate it and make any necessary changes to ensure it’s meeting the goals you established.

Image Credit: fizkes / Getty Images
Skye Schooley
Skye Schooley
Staff Writer
Skye Schooley is a human resources writer at and Business News Daily, where she has researched and written more than 300 articles on HR-focused topics including human resources operations, management leadership, and HR technology. In addition to researching and analyzing products and services that help business owners run a smoother human resources department, such as HR software, PEOs, HROs, employee monitoring software and time and attendance systems, Skye investigates and writes on topics aimed at building better professional culture, like protecting employee privacy, managing human capital, improving communication, and fostering workplace diversity and culture.