Combating Manufacturing’s Labor Shortage: The Timeless Value of Apprenticeships

Scott Dieckgraefe Insight

As manufacturing and skilled trades continue to grapple with a continuing labor shortage, a solution is drawing attention from a practice deeply rooted in history: apprenticeships. Originating from medieval times, apprenticeships involve direct, hands-on training in specialized skills, offering both theoretical and practical insights. This age-old approach is now resurfacing as a contemporary remedy to address the workforce challenges in manufacturing.

Here’s why apprenticeships are pivotal in shaping the future of the manufacturing workforce:

  1. Bridging the Skills Gap: Apprenticeships seamlessly merge theoretical learning with practical application, ensuring apprentices are industry-ready upon completion.
  • Economic Advantages: Offering apprenticeships can lead to reduced hiring costs and improved employee loyalty. Apprentices feel a sense of commitment to the organizations that invest in their training.
  • Tackling Unemployment: By creating structured pathways for learning, apprenticeships can significantly reduce unemployment rates, especially among the youth, providing them with marketable skills – without the debt burden of colleges and universities.
  • Addressing the Aging Workforce: As many skilled workers approach retirement, apprenticeships ensure that invaluable trade knowledge is passed on, preserving industry expertise.
  • Driving Innovation: Apprenticeships cultivate a dynamic and well-trained workforce, which leads to innovative solutions and practices in manufacturing.
  • Alternative Education Paths: Apprenticeships offer an excellent alternative to traditional education, appealing to those who thrive with hands-on learning. This not only reduces student debt but also provides immediate income through the “earn as you learn” model.

Canada, through its Apprenticeship Service program managed by the Employment and Social Development Canada (ESDC), stands as an example of this model. The program, supporting 39 distinct trades, offers financial incentives to employers to foster apprenticeship hires. Aside from a dip due to the pandemic, enrollment in the program has shown remarkable resilience and growth.

This program provides financial support to small and medium-sized employers to hire about 70,000 first-year apprentices, including $5,000 for each eligible new first-year apprentice hired, and $10,000 if the new hire is from an equity-deserving group.

In the U.S., the Department of Labor’s Apprenticeship USA program displays a similar commitment. This initiative fosters partnerships with educational institutions, employers, and diverse stakeholders to craft a well-trained and diverse workforce. In FY 2021, the last year data is available, more than 241,000 new apprentices entered the national apprenticeship system – a 64% growth in new apprentices since 2012.

Apprenticeship USA helps employers through the following programs:

  • Pre-Apprenticeship – a program and set of strategies designed to prepare individuals to enter and succeed in a Registered Apprenticeship Program (RAP) by offering approved curriculums, simulated experience, facilitated entry, sustainable partnerships, and supportive services.
  • Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Accessibility – the Department of Labor has announced a $20 million cooperative agreement with TradesFutures to lead a coalition of community partners to develop a gateway for women and other underrepresented communities to access and succeed in Construction Registered Apprenticeship programs.
  • Hire a Veteran – companies that want to hire veterans can provide an added incentive to attract skilled veterans. By becoming “Approved for GI Bill”, Registered Apprenticeship program sponsors can assist their current and future veteran apprentices with the benefits they’ve earned. Veterans who have existing benefits under the GI Bill and are participating in a program “Approved for GI Bill” can use those benefits towards tuition and fee payments.

As the world tilts toward technological and AI-driven advancements, simply addressing the labor shortage in manufacturing might seem like fools labor. Yet, the revival of apprenticeships underscores the importance of hands-on learning and mentorship. History, it seems, offers us a solution to a contemporary labor challenge.

Get involved with National Apprenticeship Week activities (November 13-19, 2023). Click here for details.

Studio/D is a full-service marketing communications firm working with mid-market industrial and manufacturing clients, together with companies that support the manufacturing ecosystem. We’re a team of “makers” who simplify complex communication challenges with messaging that engages and drives results. Learn more about us at, or call our president, Scott Dieckgraefe at 314-200-2630.