Creating Long-Term Opportunities: On-the-job training models that WORK!

By: Jeff Nazzaro

With federal grant money from the Department of Labor (DOL), UCR University Extension’s Apprenticeship Program is up and running, with three students currently working for Inland Empire employers as apprentices and dozens more in the pipeline for jobs at 15 area companies. It’s part of a DOL effort to build a highly-skilled domestic workforce that lessens demand for H1B (nonimmigrant workers in specialty occupations) hirings, while offering a clear pathway for apprentices from educational programs to jobs and careers. In target audience, objective, and scope, it’s right up UCR University Extension’s alley.

Apprenticeship Program Administrator and UCR University Extension CFO Eric Latham “This particular grant was focused on the Extension audience,” said Apprenticeship Program Administrator and UCR University Extension CFO, Eric Latham. “We tend to work a lot with working professionals who probably have some college and are maybe looking just to upskill at their current work, or move into a new area. This is kind of a new area for apprenticeships, in general. Apprenticeships are pretty typical in the trades: you become a carpenter through an apprenticeship, those kinds of things. This is aimed at more of a professional audience. That’s how it fits into what UCR University Extension does.”

"Apprenticeship Program Administrator Eric Latham focused this particular grant specifically on our professional audience."

The grant, focused on IT and advanced manufacturing jobs in Riverside, San Bernardino, Orange, and Los Angeles Counties, is the only one awarded to a UC Extension in Southern California. Prioritizing military veterans, military spouses, people of color, formerly incarcerated individuals, and people with disabilities, its purpose is to train new employees to work at UCR University Extension partner businesses or upskill or re-skill employers’ current workers. The Apprenticeship Program currently employs three apprentices, with several more candidates engaged in various stages of what is a comprehensive process, designed to ensure a high level of interest and motivation on the apprentice side and appropriate fit and accommodation on the employer side.

“Its purpose is to train new employees to work at our partner businesses…”

UCR University Extension Career Services Advisor Ivan Melchor Career Services Advisor Ivan Melchor works with prospective apprentices from the beginning, explaining the Apprenticeship Program and how it differs from an internship (apprentices gain full-time, paid employment that includes four built-in, goal-based wage increases paired with a reduced-tuition UCR University Extension professional certificate program directly related to the job), gauging interest and administering a Strong Interest Inventory assessment, and then offering resume prep, mock interviews, interview scheduling, and placement assistance. Once an apprenticeship starts, Ivan remains involved in a mentorship role.

“I make sure they enroll in their classes, then make sure they’re passing their classes, and I coach them if they have any challenges at work, so I provide a lot of consultative services,” he said. “Structure is definitely the key. A lot of the individuals I’ve worked with really crave that structure. It’s a big change, and that’s what I’m here to do—help them with that transition.”

“Ivan Melchor mentors each apprentice, helping them with their transition…”

One of the apprentices Ivan is working with is a previously unemployed man who had worked part-time at Amazon. He had a Bachelor’s degree in Computer Information Sciences, but was otherwise spinning his wheels in terms of a career. Ivan was able to place him with a web developer and software company in San Bernardino, while he works towards completing UCR University Extension’s Coding Boot Camp, at a nearly 50 percent discount thanks to grant money and additional funds from a national partner.

“He had a little bit of a background in computers and that’s what made him an ideal fit for our partner,” Ivan said. “He’s worked out so well for them that the employer is looking for two more apprentices.”

“David Mason meets with employers to assess their unique workforce needs and engages them throughout the process.”

Working directly with prospective employers is UCR University Extension’s Regional Director of Apprentice Programs, David Mason, who said they are currently engaged with 15 companies, including Rancho Cucamonga dessert and beverage manufacturer, The Frozen Bean, which is looking to hire 10 apprentices.

UCR University Extension Regional Director of Apprentice Programs David Mason “I’ll meet with employers to assess their unique workforce needs and engage them throughout the process, identify where their current skills gaps lie, and how we can help fill those gaps in training new apprentices or upskilling or re-skilling existing employees within the organization,” David said. “Then I’ll see if current open positions fit within the Apprenticeship Program, and if they do, I’ll work with the employer to create goals and proficiencies that the apprentice works toward so they can obtain wage increases. Exceeding employer expectations, stimulating vocational calling, fostering competitive wages, and boosting upward social mobility is the purpose and function of the program.”

“We help individuals create long-term, sustainable careers so that they can experience upward mobility and economic independence through a non-traditional pathway…”

David also works with employers to identify and set up third-party training for internal mentors for apprentices. The mentors will guide the apprentices and determine whether they are meeting their competencies, expectations, and achieving their salary raises.

The support and engagement from Eric, David, and Ivan throughout the process, on both sides of the labor equation, is part of a comprehensive strategy on UCR University Extension’s part to facilitate career building and employee retention.

We eagerly and dynamically help individuals create long-term, sustainable careers so that they can experience upward mobility and economic independence and not necessarily through a traditional education pathway,” David said. “Workforce development is gaining a lot of momentum—there are a lot of excellent jobs and a lot of great opportunities through certificate programs that can provide livable wages.”

“We want to create long-lasting vocational opportunities through an on-the-job training model, resulting in a more feasible, achievable, and practical solutions-based approach for those who do not desire a traditional education. That’s really what we’re trying to do,” David emphasized.