​Apprenticeships aren’t a new concept, but they’ve recently become a part of long term care—in particular, assisted living—strategies to solve workforce shortages. Last year, American Health Care Association/National Center for Assisted Living (AHCA/NCAL) partnered with Equus Workforce Solutions to offer long term care apprenticeship programs, with the goal of getting more people engaged in skilled nursing and assisted living. As the program expands and more apprenticeships get up and running, it’s increasingly clear that apprenticeship programs are here to stay. ​

S​ecuring Structure, Finding Fun​​​ding

One benefit of working with a program like the Equus–AHCA/NCAL partnership is that organizations don’t have to start from scratch and chart unfamiliar territory. “It helps bring more structure to what we are doing. It fits our existing training program into a more structured apprenticeship,” said Mark F. Klyczek, president and chief executive officer  of Virginia Health Services. This leads, he suggested, to opportunities for funding to help offset the costs of internal training. He said, “When you have an internal apprenticeship program, it may qualify you or the apprentices for additional funding or programs. For instance, for a military veteran, it might mean a housing stipend or other funding is reactivated through the GI Bill.” 

He added, “It can grow quickly into more funding than you may think.”

R. Michelle Day, national workforce solutions director at Equus, said, “We start with sharing the benefits of apprenticeships, that is, the ‘whys.’  We also talk about support. We work hard to gather information to package the program according to the organization’s needs.” She added, “We want to simplify the process as much as we can. We realize companies are already overwhelmed. We became a national program sponsor so we could take some of that heavy lifting off employers.”

Of course, Day said, there is a learning curve involved, but Equus is trying to make that easier, too. “We provide technical assistance in bite-size pieces. We don’t want to overwhelm people with terminology, resources, etc. We work to meet employers where they are and provide information and support accordingly,” she said. 

​The Advantag​​es of Third-Party Partnerships

Not only can partnering with an established entity like Equus help ensure your apprenticeship program starts and stays on the right track, but it also takes some burden off team leaders and others so the program doesn’t add more work for them. At the same time, it is essential to involve your teams in the program. 

Klyczek said, “We all need to understand how we want to grow the program. When different areas of the organizations have training needs we may have handled internally, we want people to think about the potential for an apprenticeship.” He also noted that even when you work with partners, “there is a lot of reporting. Each grant has a unique reporting requirement. This is a necessary evil, and there is some time involved in this.”

Deborah Rowe, vice president of nursing workforce development at Genesis, noted, “There are specific requirements and reporting associated with each apprenticeship, and they may vary per state. This includes hours, eligibility requirements, clinical competencies, wage reports, mentor reports, etc. Keeping abreast of each specific requirement for the integrity of the apprenticeship is important. You need dedicated and committed staff to launch the apprenticeship program.” 

However, she stressed, “while there is a dedicated effort for the success of the apprenticeship program, the success lies with the individuals themselves to participate and engage in the program.”​

The Marketin​g Advantage

If you can offer job candidates paid training and a job, this is a definite marketing advantage, particularly in a tight hiring market. This means promoting the value of the program to prospects. Klyczek said, “Apprentices enjoy the program quite a bit. They get increases in wages throughout the process. We make it clear where those increases will come, and we even have nice graphics showing when pay increases happen. We also have an ‘earn as you learn’ component so they get paid when they’re in class.” 

In addition, apprentices can access up to $600 or $700 to help pay for things like rent, car repairs, laptops or phones, and new glasses. This can be significant, said Klyczek, for entry-level workers “who don’t have a lot of extra cash to meet those needs. It also helps provide a cushion for some unexpected life issues.”

The Road to Ret​enti​​on

While the apprenticeship program can help attract new hires, said Klyczek, it also resonates with existing staff. “They see it as a pipeline, and they appreciate us bringing more people in and reducing the use of agency staff,” said Klyczek, adding, “we’ve come to rely on apprenticeships.” In the past year, Virginia Health Services has trained about 70 people in the program and is on track to train that many or more this year. 

Klyczek concluded, “I think staff will see the end result, which is more adequately and consistently trained team members on the floor. The apprentices learn our values and culture and are part of the team from the start.”

Accola​​des from Em​ployers

In general, employers are enthusiastic about apprenticeships. Day offered, “One has operated their program for over a year. They report that the retention rate went from 33 percent to 84 percent. Another organization in a rural county had pretty much exhausted applicants. When they offered apprenticeship opportunities, they received 14 applications in one day.”

Genesis launched an apprenticeship program in 2020, and Rowe said it was “a natural progression from our nurse aide training programs.” She said, “The benefits of the apprenticeship include working with community partners that offer recruitment, prescreening for nurse aide training and licensed practical nurse apprentice candidates, success coaches, grant funding for training, mentor education, and maintenance of apprenticeship reporting. This allowed further engagement with educational institutions on clinical affiliations, training and education, and promotion of career pathways. We worked collaboratively to recruit, train, and support a pipeline of certified and licensed care providers for patients and residents.”

​​Positive But N​ot a Panacea

While apprenticeships are showing great promise, Day and Klyczek both stress that they are not meant to be a panacea or a sole strategy for recruitment. Day said, “Before you do this, it is important to realize that the apprenticeship is just part of your efforts to address workforce shortages.” 

She also observed that several ingredients are necessary for apprenticeships to be successful. For one, she said, “you definitely need a champion, someone who understands the ‘whys.’ Then you need someone to be the point of contact, and you need to be able to identify and support qualified mentors to train apprentices.” Day added, “You also need buy-in from a fiscal perspective to offer progressive pay as people complete instruction and obtain competencies. It also is important to have clear career lattices or pathways for employees. They need to know what they are expected to do to move to the next level.” 

Expansion Is​​​​ on the Menu

“We are thinking that any training should be an apprenticeship program moving forward. And we are looking to see if there is an avenue for certification to be part of such programs,” said Klyczek. “It sends a good message to new hires. They see that you’re committed to internal movement, growth, and advancement.” His organization is preparing to roll out a process for environmental services and dietary staff. 

Day agreed, stating, “I’m hearing good things, and there is much interest in learning more about how to use apprenticeships. In the health care industry in particular, many occupations with such programs are seeing the benefits, including high retention rates, and that’s exciting.” 

Way of the Fut​ure

Even as the workforce crisis eases, apprenticeships are here to stay.  “Those who don’t have apprenticeships will be in the minority soon, and they won’t be able to compete with those who do have such programs. The more people use apprenticeships, the more they will want them, and the more job seekers will come to expect them,” said Klyczek. 

Joanne KaldyDay offered, “I see apprenticeships being a topic of conversation for many years to come. We are seeing unprecedented funding to help solve staffing crises in many industries, and apprenticeships are part of this.” She added, “You will hear the term ‘modern apprenticeships.’ Many see this as a viable solution to help upskill workers, and many career seekers see it as another path to earn a credential.” 

Joanne Kaldy is a freelance writer and communications consultant based in New Orleans.​