Why Registered Apprenticeship Programs Are the Key to Boosting Employment

As COVID-19 cases decrease, and businesses across the country re-open, it’s important to know how to encourage, guide, and retain new employees. This is especially relevant considering that federal pandemic-related unemployment benefits end this month for many Mississippians. 

People that are currently unemployed may be looking for new career paths once these benefits end, and it’s important for employers to know how to capture their interests.

We spoke to Laura Ring*, Deputy Executive Director of External Relations for the Mississippi Department of Employment Security (MDES), for her insight on the benefits of registered apprenticeship programs, and how they can help fight unemployment and ultimately support people in their careers and lives. 

One of the most effective ways employers can capture their employees’ interest and loyalty is by offering registered apprenticeship programs. These registered apprenticeship programs, which are training models validated by the U.S. Department of Labor, are shared directly with industries and businesses alike through the Mississippi Apprenticeship Program (MAP). 

“An apprenticeship gives you real on-the-job training in a particular field and is a great way to jump-start the path to a lifelong career,” Ring says.

Employees, especially those who are just transitioning back into employment, may also gain additional benefits from registered apprenticeship programs. Employees can get a headstart on their careers, and may benefit from career advancement and wage increases as they hone their skills and build confidence in their profession.  

“An apprenticeship gives you real on-the-job training in a particular field and is a great way to jump-start the path to a lifelong career,” Ring says. “Careers you have invested in, can last until retirement. And they get you one step closer to discovering that special something you’ve never imagined.”

Ring had this to say to businesses looking to utilize apprenticeship programs: 

“After reading about MAP, I hope you will share this opportunity to change a life and invest in a career for your business and employees. And help spread the word. Let your partners know that an investment in this program is an investment in the future. The future of their employees and the future of their company.

I invite you to let MAP develop a customized program that will assist you in training new and current employees. MDES can help you MAP out a plan that is just right for you when it comes to the workforce. Step out of your comfort zone and experience the partnership MAP has for you!”

*Laura Ring is deputy executive director of External Relations for the Mississippi Department of Employment Security (MDES) and serves as the Top Executive Officer of the Mississippi Apprenticeship Program. Laura has 15 plus years of service with the agency. She has served in various roles in the Offices of Comptroller, Job Connections, and Grant Management. She holds a BS degree in Business Administration from the University of Southern Mississippi.

On Work-Based Learning: An Interview with Work-Based Learning Program Supervisor, Carol Ballard

From resource shortages to high unemployment rates, the COVID-19 pandemic has brought a myriad of adversities to the state of Mississippi.

Now more than ever, communities need ways to train and prepare their youth for the workforce, which is why work-based learning and apprenticeship programs are essential to improving and developing the state’s economy.

Organizations like the Mississippi Department of Education (MDE) and the Mississippi Apprenticeship Program (MAP) help provide resources and support for Work-Based Learning (WBL). Carol Ballard, Work-Based Learning (WBL) Program Supervisor at MDE, explains what work-based learning is and how it influences economic development.

When asked to define work-based learning, Ballard references MDE’s 2020 Work-Based Operation Guide, which quotes the Perkins V Act’s definition of the term.

“Work-based learning,” Ballard says, “consists of sustained interactions with industry or community professionals in real workplace settings to the extent practicable or simulated environments at an educational institution. These interactions foster in-depth, first-hand engagement with the tasks required of a given career field, that are aligned to curriculum and instruction.”

According to MDE’s Resource Guide, work-based learning exists on a continuum, beginning in elementary schools, ranging from career awareness to career experience. The program includes activities, from career fairs and classroom guest speakers to internships and workplace simulations. Apprenticeship programs also qualify as work-based learning and fall in the career experience end of the spectrum. For this reason, MDE is working to increase the number of apprenticeships and internships across the state.

“We have partnered with several agencies, including, but not limited to, the US- Department of Labor(US-DOL) and Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) districts, to provide students with the pre-apprenticeships, apprenticeships, and internships they need for on-the-job training,” Ballard says. “We are working to increase the number of authentic work experiences throughout the state and are confident the Mississippi Apprenticeship Program can help provide continued partnerships with businesses and industries.”

Work-based learning programs and apprenticeship programs help positively influence economic development by creating an educated workforce, allowing businesses to develop meaningful relationships with the WBL students, increasing job retention, and improving employment. These programs provide essential on-the-job education to students.

However, the COVID-19 pandemic has changed the way businesses and industries provide work-based learning.

“Some work-based learning experiences have been affected due to business closures and limitations,” says Ballard. “While other work-based learning opportunities have been creative and have allowed students to work remotely, some learning experiences were not affected at all. A major focus at MDE is ensuring that every student enrolled in a work-based learning course receives the same quality experience, and we have worked hard to maintain this quality even in remote learning.”

MDE provides supportive resources for businesses interested in establishing work-based learning programs amidst the pandemic. These resources include connecting businesses with work-based learning coordinators, supplying employability training, and providing virtual work-based learning programs.

For businesses that have experienced budget cuts due to the pandemic, work-based learning and apprenticeship programs have helped them maintain productivity while also allowing students to gain essential work experience. For students and people looking for a career change, work-based learning is helping to build valuable relationships between students and the businesses they are apprenticing.

Whether for career awareness or career experience, work-based learning initiatives, including registered apprenticeship programs, are essential to job growth and security throughout the state.

“Work-based learning,” Ballard says, “is building a stronger workforce for tomorrow.”

Welcome to the team: Chris

One of MAP’s newest Apprenticeship State Expansion Specialists, Chris Seay, says she’s excited about her new position. 

“My role,” Seay says “is to increase the number of employers and people participating in Registered Apprenticeship Programs.” 

Seay says there is a “high need” in Mississippi for a more skilled workforce and is determined to help make Mississippi “a leader in having a highly-skilled workforce.” Mississippi has suffered significant losses in employment due to the COVID-19 pandemic, however, programs like MAP and specialists like Seay, can help the state recover from those setbacks by helping employees gain critical experience and training.

“Employers right now are desperate to fill positions and people who lost their jobs during the pandemic are desperate to get back to work,” Seay says. “There is a skill gap that needs to be closed, but [apprenticeship programs] can help achieve that.”

Seay’s previous work experience exemplifies her abilities for organization, management, and outreach. Seay was a former manager for five WIN Job Centers across the state, including centers located in: Amory, Attala, Louisville, Mayhew and West Point. She was responsible for assuring the day-to-day operations of those centers and supervised a team of twelve. She also conducted employer outreach and enrolled participants in Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) funded programs and Adult and Dislocated Title I and Wagner-Peyser services. Seay also has experience in retail, human resources, and sales. 

When asked what motivates her about her new position, Seay had this to say: 

“I want to help people fulfill their dreams regardless of if they are just out of college or if they just want a career change. I’m really looking forward to building relationships with businesses, communities, and apprentices across the state. I also want to see Mississippi become an even greater state than it already is!”  

Welcome to the team: Brittany

Brittany Morris, one of MAP’s newest team members, looks forward to “happiness, helping others, and [driving] a network of people to positive end results”. Morris will serve as MAP’s Apprenticeship State Expansion Specialist, and will work in business engagement to promote registered apprenticeships across the state of Mississippi.

“My role in the apprenticeship program will consist of being an intermediary,” Morris says, “[connecting] employers with interested apprentices who are looking to acquire diverse skills and to meet their career goals.” 

Morris’ previous work experience includes working alongside legal teams within the Division of Medicaid as a compliance specialist. In this position, Morris prepared corrective action plans, sanctions, and liquidated damages for the agency and its external contractors. 

Morris also has experience in Procurement as a compliance analyst, and drafted requests for applications and proposals (RFAs and RFPs) in an effort to acquire grant funding for Mississippi school districts. Morris also has administrative experience in gathering evaluation teams, analyzing proposals, and presenting essential grant documents to the board for review and approval. 

Her rich and varied work experiences show that she has the skills necessary for furthering apprenticeship expansion, outreach, and promotion.  

“Apprenticeship expansion,” Morris says, “consists of making sure all people of diverse backgrounds have an opportunity to learn new skills and meet their career goals. It is important to have [apprenticeship programs] set up across the state in order to reach a wider audience.”

When asked what motivates her about her job, Morris had this to say:

“I’m motivated by what I care about, which is a healthy work culture, being valued as an employee, and being able to use creative ideas to solve problems or implement new strategies.” 

On Economic Development: Thoughts from Acting Executive Director, Curnis Upkins

Curnis Upkins III, Acting Executive Director at Hinds County Economic Development Authority, speaks on the importance of National Economic Development Week, finding that first “career job,” and how efforts that increase economic development, such as apprenticeship programs, help improve communities across the state. 

For most of us, work is a part of life. Working in exchange for a wage or salary feels like a difficult thing to start—not because the job itself is hard, but due to the fact that finding the job you want is often no easy task. I started my first career job seventeen years ago. I had graduated from college in May with no job prospects and had become well acquainted with the “must have five years of experience” line. How does one get five years of experience if no one will offer the opportunity to get day one checked off the list? 

One solution to this conundrum that the Mississippi Department of Employment Security has pursued is the Mississippi Apprenticeship Program. Not only does it offer day-one experience, but it also gives participants the opportunity to earn a wage while they receive on-the-job training. This is crucial because if you’ve gotten to the point in life where bills have started, they don’t typically stop to let you learn something new. Getting paid while you learn is the way to go. 

Eventually, I did get to day one of my first career job. The field that captured me is economic development. It is a profession in which people strive daily to improve their communities through new businesses, jobs, and investments. The most critical component of our work is the presence of talented people such as those reading this post and the contributions they make at the workplace. 

Your efforts enhance the businesses in which you are employed or the ventures that you own. It culminates into a vehicle of revenue called income, through which you can support yourself and your family in the various aspirations you have for your life. It also provides revenue for our communities so that we can work toward those public improvements that are integral to our cities, counties, and state such as utility infrastructure, roads, education, parks, and access to each. 

May 9th  to May 15th  is Economic Development Week. It is an annual effort to reinforce the public’s awareness of a field that often does its work in the background. While it’s not as thirst-quenching as National Lemonade Day, it has the same spirit of building a better community through the wealth that businesses create. 

When Economic Development Week arrives, use it as a time to reflect upon the current state of economic development for your community. More importantly, visualize how you’d like to see it in the future and help us make it happen; because while it is our job as practitioners to cheerlead for our communities (which we do with pride) you are the ultimate influencer. 

On Economic Development: An Interview with Executive Director, Gwen Howard

According to the U.S Bureau of Labor Statistics, Mississippi had the 33rd highest unemployment rate in the country last month. The Bureau also reported that Mississippi experienced a significant decrease in employment, when compared to last year’s employment numbers–with nearly 34,000 jobs lost from March 2020 to March 2021. This change is likely caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, which has brought a myriad of adversities and challenges to businesses and employees alike. 

However, organizations such as the Mississippi Economic Development Council (MEDC) and the Mississippi Apprenticeship Program (MAP), provide tools and resources that can help support and promote economic growth. 

Gwen Howard, Executive Director of MEDC, speaks on what economic development is, how it can improve the economy, and how apprenticeship programs can lower job turnover and improve the workforce in the state.

Economic development consists of activities designed to create jobs, to increase community wealth, and to promote economic growth. 

“Economic development,” Howard says, “ends up halfway between job growth and economic prosperity. There are many avenues toward economic development, though traditional pathways include job growth, business location, and business expansion.”

MEDC offers resources for both traditional and alternative pathways toward economic development, and has served as a driving force for Mississippi’s economic development for decades. 

“MEDC is 57 years old. We have played a role in Mississippi’s competitiveness on many levels over the decades,” Howard says. “We serve not only as the voice of economic development in the state, but also as the nexus that brings professionals and industry partners together.”

In addition to convening professionals, industry partners, and businesses in order to discuss opportunities for job growth, MEDC considers apprenticeship as an important tool for furthering economic development. 

“Apprenticeship programs provide a sustainable pipeline of talent for our existing and new companies, ensuring that they will have a trained and productive workforce setting them on a path to success,” MEDC President, Mitch Stringer says. 

When asked how MAP can help further economic development in the state, Howard had this to say: 

“The Mississippi Apprenticeship Program is an important part of our overall strategy to retain talent in Mississippi and to build one of the best workforces in the country. It is a unique tool companies can use to tailor on-site programs to the occupations and skill sets needed for their industries,” Howard says.“We see [apprenticeship programs] as a win-win for the employer and the community’s workforce, by training [employees] to be the best they can be at their job, which results in reduced job turnover.” 

In addition to MEDC and MAP’s resources, economic development can be influenced by people wanting to improve their communities. Everyone can have a role in improving economic development. 

“Although MEDC works hard to serve its members,” Howard says, “ the state’s job growth and economic prosperity is due to the hours of  our local and regional economic developers, MDA, the governor and the legislature and the many industry partners that work together to make Mississippi a top state for doing business.”

MEDC’s website is full of helpful information on economic development, job growth, and pandemic relief. They also offer memberships to individuals interested in becoming more involved in economic development and strengthening the state’s workforce.

“We welcome everyone who plays a role in economic and community development,” Howard says. “If you aren’t engaged already, you’re missing out on a strong network of peers and opportunities to grow and strengthen the community you serve.”

Tonya Campbell’s Success Story

Tonya Campbell, an apprentice with Innovative Systems Group (ISG), discusses ISG’s Cybersecurity Apprenticeship Program (ISG-CAP) that has been registered and certified by both ApprenticeshipNC and the U.S. Department of Labor. This program is also registered in Mississippi.

Innovative Systems Group (ISG), based in Raleigh, N.C., has offered an effective and ground-breaking registered apprenticeship program in cybersecurity for the past seven years. This program, one of the first in the country, provides apprentices with the knowledge and first-hand experience they need to successfully help businesses protect their assets*.

“ISG has a unique approach to cybersecurity,” Tonya Campbell, an apprentice of the program says, “we use virtual networks to simulate security threats. These simulated threats allow organizations to measure their ability to manage a security attack before it happens.” 

Apprentices are supported by a knowledgeable mentor as they navigate the program. This element of the program allows apprentices to form meaningful and lasting connections that can help propel them into their desired field.  

“One of the biggest benefits of this program,” Tonya says, “has been meeting wonderful mentors who have inspired me to excel and have given me purpose within the field.”

Tonya considers the apprenticeship model to be one of the most important models for people entering the workforce, because it offers individuals “the opportunity to see first-hand what the job will entail” and also provides “valuable hands-on experience”. 

“Take the opportunity!” Tonya says, “It will open new doors and you will be able to network and learn from your experience.” 

For more information on the program, visit ISG’s website

Judaline Cassidy’s Success Story

Judaline Cassidy is a feminist plumber, an activist for tradeswomen, and a public speaker. 

A native of the twin islands of Trinidad and Tobago, Judaline was among the first three women selected to learn plumbing at the John Donaldson Technical Institute of Trinidad, which is now known as the University of Trinidad and Tobago.

Judaline has worked for over two decades as a plumber, and has earned numerous accolades, such as becoming one of the first women to be accepted into Plumbers Local 371 in Staten Island, NY. She was also the first woman to be elected to the Examining Board of Plumbers Local No. 1. 

In addition to her accolades, Judaline has helped give back to her community and has helped support and cultivate women’s interests in skilled trades like plumbing. She founded “Lean In Women In Trades” to help tradeswomen share information and learn from each other, and founded “Tools & Tiaras Inc.”,a non-profit organization, to expose, inspire, and mentor young girls and women about trades that are “non-traditional” for women.

“When you hand a young girl a tool and a tiara,” Judaline says, “you’re handing her confidence, independence, and power.”

For more information on Judaline’s work, visit her website.

Shannon Tymosko’s Success Story

Shannon Tymosko, based in proximity to Toronto, Canada, is an apprentice electrician, and an advocate, educator, and ambassador for women in the skilled trades. 

She is an active leader in KickAss Careers–a Canadian-based organization dedicated to bringing education, resources, and encouragement to women interested in working in a skilled trade. 

She was introduced to the organization while attending a pre-apprenticeship program at the YWCA in Hamilton. She met Jamie McMillian, who is a tradeswoman ironworker/ boilermaker and co-founder KickAss Careers, and the meeting inspired Shannon to persevere through her coursework and to eventually join the organization in supporting skilled tradeswomen. 

“Jamie was the first woman I had met who was a real authentic tradeswoman,” Shannon says, “She gave me the motivation and inspiration I needed to keep persevering.”

Through her partnership with KickAss Careers, Shannon has presented at local high schools, hosted workshops at her local YWCA, managed “career exploration workshops” with a program called Skills Ontario, and has delivered virtual trainings to regional apprenticeship programs, including the Ontario Youth Apprenticeship Program (OYAP). 

Shannon is currently in her second year at Electrical Apprentice with the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) based in the city of Hamilton in Ontario, Canada. Shannon credits her apprenticeships and her profession in the skilled trades with providing her with independence, confidence, and financial stability. 

“Having a pension, great health benefits, and pay all lead to my independence,” Shannon says, “I now have a job that gives me the chance to ‘Thrive not just Survive’. Being in the skilled trades has given me the confidence, skills, and community to complete any work tasks or take on at home projects…I inevitably learn something new almost every day I go to work.” 

Shannon also credits her education and profession with increased motivation to help grow the number of women in the skilled trades. 

For more information on Shannon and her work, visit https://www.shannontymosko.com/.

Singing River Hospital Launches Health Care Registered Apprenticeship Program

A new Registered Apprenticeship (RA) program at Singing River Hospital offers exciting opportunities for people interested in starting a career in health care. 

Deano Harrison, a workforce development specialist at Singing River Hospital, says the program will strengthen the health care workforce on the coast and will increase the health care talent pipeline across the state. 

The “learn-while-you-earn” program, launched in partnership with the Mississippi Apprenticeship Program (MAP), is designed to support individuals interested in a healthcare career but may not be able to afford college. Apprentices can choose between becoming certified Phlebotomists or Certified Nursing Assistants (CNA) and are given hours of one-on-one training by a certified instructor. After achieving the required clinical hours, apprentices can apply for their certification exam. 

Niticia Poole, a registered nurse and instructor for both the CNA and Phlebotomy courses, says this program comes at the right time considering the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“We are in a very high need for any type of healthcare professionals from doctors to phlebotomists,” Poole says. 

In Mississippi, with rising rates of COVID-19 and increased numbers of medical professionals moving out of rural areas in the state, the need for healthcare professionals has only intensified. 

According to the Bureau of Health Workforce Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA), Mississippi qualifies as a “Health Professional Shortage Area (HPSA).” The state has less than 46% percent of its primary health care needs met due to a shortage of healthcare professionals. 

However, programs like Singing River’s RA program help Mississippi grow and retain its medical professionals, strengthening communities and stimulating local economies. 

“In rural areas, it is difficult to recruit because it is difficult to get medical professionals to stay,” Deano says. “That is why we have established different programs, to get  [individuals] into the Singing River family, and to help them progress their careers and stay on the coast.” 

Deano credits the MAP with helping to support and promote the hospital’s RA program. He says the program will provide a pathway for more Mississippians to earn college credit.

“The Mississippi Apprenticeship Program gave us the opportunity to go further and to reach people statewide,” Deano says. “Their support will also allow us to collect detailed demographics to bring a more diverse workforce into healthcare.”