Training for the Future: Businesses Adapt Apprenticeships for a Changing Economy

September 7, 2018

Apprenticeships date as far back as 1750 BC—and the word often brings to mind images of medieval blacksmiths and cobblers. But the truth is that apprenticeships have been critical to the transfer of knowledge from generation to generation throughout history. In the U.S., however, the apprenticeship model began to decline as the country became more and more industrialized.

Today, that’s changing.

In an environment in which U.S. employers are struggling to find workers with the right skills to fill critical job openings, America’s leading companies are increasingly turning to this time-tested model to recruit and train workers in their companies.


Industry-led and business-supported apprenticeship programs have quickly become proven tools that connect learning directly to the work at hand—while simultaneously helping employers train and advance qualified employees.

Rather than requiring workers to obtain additional certifications or degrees, which can be costly and time-consuming, some apprenticeships enable companies to provide on-the-job education that helps train and retain workers without the needs for specific credentials. Apprenticeships allow students or younger workers to learn real-world lessons from more experienced workers, transferring critical company and industry knowledge from one generation of workers to the next.

“Continuing education programs and apprenticeships are just some of the tools we use to develop talent across our 60 U.S. facilities. With six out of ten U.S. manufacturing positions vacant, all manufacturers need to do more to attract and develop talent” said Lisa Davis, CEO of Siemens Corporation and a regional lead of Business Roundtable’s Workforce Partnerships Initiative.

In recent years, companies have even used apprenticeship programs to expand beyond career technical training to include white-collar professions, such as finance and aerospace.

In 2017, professional services firms Aon and Accenture adapted the apprenticeship model for white-collar workers in Chicago. Through partnerships with educational institutions, these firms have worked to inform college curricula and create a talent pipeline of workers capable of excelling in their new roles.

“Aon’s apprenticeship program has brought young men and women from across Chicagoland to work and learn at our firm,” said Greg Case, Aon’s president & CEO. “This is about Aon getting access to the best talent Chicago has to offer. These students are forging a new path for us in bringing diverse and exciting new talent to the company, and they have already had a remarkable impact.”

Business Roundtable CEOs recognize the role that private industry must play to close the skills gap and help today’s workers excel in the jobs of tomorrow. That’s why they have moved quickly to build partnerships with education and community leaders that align local business needs with career pathway and apprenticeship programs across the country.