Economic Opportunity

Advancing AI skills through the apprenticeship model

Apprenticeships are key to reducing skills gaps and helping workers enter AI-powered and high-demand fields.

Nov 13, 2023 5 min read

November 13-17, 2023 is the 9th annual U.S. National Apprenticeship Week, where employers, industry associations, educators, and governments join together to celebrate apprenticeships. This year, many of these leaders will convene to discuss the growth of apprenticeships in new and emerging industries, and how technologies, notably AI, will increasingly change the U.S. workforce landscape.

Apprenticeships and AI

AI has the potential to help many workers do their jobs more efficiently and effectively. As technology augments the development of new products, services, and occupations, it will lead to changes in the skills required for professions like cybersecurity, data analytics, and IT support, among others.

This is where apprenticeships come in. These programs help workers learn and leverage AI technology, while also helping to avoid exacerbating the skills gap. Whether workers are seeking to enter new fields, or want to grow and apply AI to their existing roles, apprenticeships can help. However, there is a critical need to expand these and other education and training programs, to better prepare workers to thrive and develop the skills needed to fully unlock AI’s capabilities.

Apprenticeships can play a larger role in workforce training and reducing the skills gap

Apprenticeships are structured work-and-study programs that help people acquire skills and paid on-the-job experience, without having to incur student debt. As such, they can catalyze economic mobility by offering an entry point for workers with nontraditional educational backgrounds to access good paying jobs and careers in high-demand industries. The apprenticeship model can – and should – play an increasingly valuable role as AI is integrated across economic sectors. Here’s why:

  1. The apprenticeship model is well-positioned to help workers learn skills at a relatively high pace. By offering a combination of paid on-the-job training, technical instruction, and mentorship, workers are able to learn new skills on-the-job and in real time. For employers, although the start-up costs for apprenticeships can be significant, the return on investment is high and can have long-term impact since workers are advancing along with their respective job, company, or industry.
  2. Apprenticeships can also be a viable tool to re-skill and re-invest.  Employers can offer apprenticeships to train their current workforce to be AI ready and reduce the existing skills gap. Moreover, two-thirds of workers are already aware of the possible shift in their fields and are willing to re-skill in order to remain competitively employed. Employers and workers alike can leverage the apprenticeship model as a pathway for advancement.
  3. Apprenticeships offer an opportunity to develop and refine professional and uniquely human skills. With workers learning how to use AI to carry out more routine tasks, they can focus more on creative and rewarding work. Critical thinking, problem-solving, effective collaboration, and empathy will remain highly sought after, regardless of how industries evolve.

Adopting and expanding apprenticeship programs in the United States

Since 2017, Google has invested in apprenticeships around the world, fostering opportunities and increasing access for workers, while developing talent for the broader global workforce. Our U.S. program has welcomed hundreds of apprentices over the last few years, incorporating the Department of Labor Registered Apprenticeship system and Google Career Certificates as the classroom learning for most tracks. Workers train on-the-job at Google. To date, over 90% of Google’s apprentices have completed the program successfully and earned their Department of Labor credential.

Thanks to the Data Analytics Apprenticeship, I was able to strengthen my technical expertise and foster a connection between Operations Management and Analytics. My current role has become that newfound bridge as I work on scaling Analytics Operations for Kellanova's (formerly known as Kellogg's) Global Data & Analytics Portfolio Team."

Tony Ekeweme, former Google Data Analytics Apprentice

Apprenticeships have long been a common program model in other countries like Germany, Switzerland, and the UK. And there are a growing number of new and evolving industries that could benefit from the apprenticeship model in the U.S., including tech.

While incredibly impactful, apprenticeships are a significant investment, and further adoption and sustainability will require increased collaboration across governments, organizations, employers, and education. To work towards creating a best-in-class system, there is a need for both broad and focused, long-term and short-term initiatives, including the following:

  • Offer more outside support for employer investment. Businesses, especially small and medium sized, may need support to start an apprenticeship program. With help, more businesses from new sectors may be encouraged to participate, resulting in a greater supply and variety of apprenticeship opportunities, benefitting both workers and employers.  In December 2022, granted the Urban Institute $2M to expand Department of Labor registered tech apprenticeships to small and medium businesses in North and South Carolina. The Urban Institute is using this funding to support local business owners and to create more pathways to economic mobility for diverse workers in the Carolinas.
  • Incentivize employers to register programs and agree to a standard level of quality. The apprenticeship model has been successful and is distinguished by the structure and standards it offers: blended classroom learning, paid on-the-job training, and mentorship. By standardizing the quality of programs to all work towards identified key competencies and commitments, both employers and apprentices will benefit.
  • Expand apprenticeship partnerships between the education sector and employers. This would open more doors to access technology and provide workers multiple pathways to economic mobility.
  • Remove barriers for workers. Workers who have historically been unable to access higher paying jobs and careers could greatly benefit and do so through an apprenticeship. Programs that provide access to funding and all-around support must be in place to bolster an individual’s ability to participate in, and successfully complete an apprenticeship.
Continued investment in education and training programs, as well as cutting edge skills, can support the growth of a workforce. As we look towards a rapidly evolving landscape augmented by AI, we must learn from and adopt successful apprenticeship models from across the globe, as a key solution for building more equitable opportunity.