In this episode of Honest HR, host Monique Akanbi speaks with Mary Wright, Manager of the SHRM Foundation’s Apprenticeship Program, about apprenticeships’ helping to sidestep the war for talent, and how the SHRM Foundation’s HR Registered Apprenticeship Program (RAP) is helping HR departments develop their own superstar HR professionals.
Hiring and talent acquisition is so often premised on a “hurry up and wait” passivity: You announce a position, cross your fingers, and hope qualified applicants come to you. But what if they just don't? If so, apprenticeships are another route that allow you develop your own talent, rather than waiting for it to arrive.
In this episode of Honest HR, host Monique Akanbi speaks with Mary Wright, Manager of the SHRM Foundation’s Apprenticeship Program on how apprenticeships can help to sidestep the war for talent, and how the SHRM Foundation’s HR Registered Apprenticeship Program (RAP) has created a path for HR departments to develop their own superstar HR professionals.
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Monique Akanbi: Welcome to Honest HR, the podcast for HR professionals, people managers, and team leads, intent on growing our companies for the better.
Amber Clayton: We bring you honest, forward-thinking conversations and relatable stories from the workplace that challenge the way it's always been done. Because after all, you have to push back to move forward.
Wendy Fong: Honest HR is a podcast from SHRM, the Society for Human Resource Management. And by listening, you're helping create better workplaces and a better world. I'm Wendy Fong.
Amber Clayton: I'm Amber Clayton.
Monique Akanbi: And I'm Monique Akanbi.
Amber, Monique ...: Now let's get honest.
Monique Akanbi: Hello and welcome back to Honest HR. I'm your host, Monique Akanbi, Field Services Director East at SHRM. On our episode today, we're going to talk about how employers can leverage apprenticeships, more specifically, the HR Registered Apprenticeship Program to attract and retain talent. This podcast is approved to provide SHRM predecease if you listen to the full episode. Our guest for this podcast is Mary Wright, manager of HR Registered Apprenticeship Program through the SHRM Foundation. Welcome to Honest HR, Mary.
Mary Wright: Thanks. I'm pleased to be here today.
Monique Akanbi: We are happy to have you. So just in the beginning, can you tell us a little more about what is the SHRM Foundation and its initiatives?
Mary Wright: Sure, that's a great question. It's a big one. We've got lots of big plans and lots of big things that we're doing. So the SHRM Foundation is the operating foundation part of SHRM, and so we are the 501(c)(3) arm of SHRM. So we receive funding both from SHRM and its members as well as from grants and gifts that we receive for specific projects. But our goal in life has grown from simply providing dollars for HR professionals to do research, which is what we historically had done, as well as scholarships, which has become a more important part of our work because we're concerned about being sure that the next generation of HR has the chance to explore HR and to get the training that they need in order to be great professionals. So we certainly are looking at the world of emerging professionals, but we've also expanded to look at how we help HR professionals think about that next generation of HR, but also how is it that they are sure that they are tapping into the resources of those who are considered, as we've said, untapped talent.
So we look at programs to help HR professionals bring people with disabilities, veterans, older workers, people who are coming out of the criminal justice system and veterans. How is it that we help them bring those folks into the organization? I often think about that as moving from diversity to inclusion. We talk a lot about diversity and we recognize how important that is to the operation of our organizations, and we all have very significant DEI&A, or diversity equity inclusion and accessibility goals in our organizations, but we also often need help to do what it is we think is the right thing to do.
So we've provided training programs to help those HR professionals and other people in the organization think about how to better include those folks into our workplace. But the part of the foundation program that I run is around skills and how is it that we think about getting people the skills they need in order to get ahead, and particularly the skills for folks who are, as we sometimes call them, non-traditional learners, folks who do not have two and four year degrees. And one of the best ways to do that is through an apprenticeship program. So that's a little overview of what the foundation does.
Monique Akanbi: Wow, and that's a lot. And thank you so much for letting our listeners know the many great things that the SHRM Foundation does. So you mentioned skills, and over, especially over the last couple of years that has been a challenge for employers. So employers across the country are just struggling with finding workers with the right skills due to the growing skills gap with the workforce and apprenticeships are a great way to close that skills gap. Can you tell us a little more about what an apprenticeship is? Because when I think of apprenticeship, when it was first introduced to me years ago, I thought it was more on the manufacturing side. And so what I've learned over time is that it integrates or it's across all industries or all sectors as well. So can you tell us a little bit more about what apprenticeships are?
Mary Wright: Sure. And you brought up a bunch of really good points about some of those, the issues that HR professionals have today in terms of doing recruiting. And we recognize that there's a lot of talent out there. They just don't come in that package that we got used to, the four year degree, the two years of experience, ready to join the workplace. We recognize that there are a lot of folks out there who have great potential for taking on these roles that are available, but we have to do a better job of giving them the training or the education that they need in order to get ahead. So historically, yes, apprenticeships are, we think of apprenticeships as union, manufacturing and union and the trades. And we think of these as jobs that are not in that old vernacular. They are blue collar jobs, they're not considered white collar, even pink collar positions.
And they did their job really well. You think now about plumbing and any of the other trades, all the building and construction certainly. You are given a chance to learn as you earn. You're hired onto a job, you're given training, you're given that kind of supervision by a tradesperson or as they call it in the union world, a journey worker, someone who knows what they're doing. And after a period of time you pass all of those exams, you get that certificate that says you've understood what it is that you're supposed to do and you're done with your apprenticeship and you go on to greater and better things. And also if you think historically it used to be that banking, that's probably, I think where apprenticeships started in the 1600s, we thought of people being able to master a craft or we think about it in the arts, mastering that craft. We talk about great artists having been apprentices.
And we're really saying now all of that methodology, that concept of being able to work with someone who is a master at their craft for an extended period of time, while you have some educational component as part of that, and after a period of time you've earned your keep, you've earned your credential. Well, that's exactly what "modern apprenticeships" is all about. It's the notion that there are people who have the right aptitude and interest for a position, but maybe they have not had what we have been grown to accept or grown to expect, the two or four year degree. And so we've said, well, why can't we do this for other "more white collar jobs?" There's certainly been great work in, particularly insurance on the claims adjustment side where people were saying insurance, I used to work in insurance and it's not something that little boys and girls grew up saying, I've always wanted to be an insurance agent.
So it doesn't have that same cachet as a lot of other white collar positions. Yet we do need those folks and we need to figure out a better way to train them. And this is also true for HR. So what we decided to do was develop the HR apprenticeship program and this is a... We received a grant from the Department of Labor to put this together. But we've said that we believe that someone who has the aptitude for HR but for whatever reason has not had the opportunity to attend the traditional four year degree for your school, they can learn this on the job. And so they can work with an experienced supervisor, they can have an educational component, and they have a chance after an 18 to 24 month period to have learned enough to take the SHRM-CP exam.
So what we've offered is a program where the employer chooses their own apprentice. This is still an employer's program. They get to choose who they want to hire. We do not have any specifications other than we would encourage people to think about untapped talent because this is a perfect opportunity to meet your DE&I requirements or goals. You have a perfect chance to do this because you now have a real structured position to have someone come in too. So we also offer the educational component of SHRM created content that the supervisor guides that learner through, or you could work with a community college if that is what the employer seems to think is best for both themselves and for their apprentice. So you have a chance to work with the student, supervise them over that 18 to 24 month period and by the end, they will have had the opportunity to understand the entire fabulous world of HR really looks like.
Monique Akanbi: Thank you so much for that, Mary. And so as you were talking, I was thinking if I was an employer and if I heard apprenticeship because it is an employer owned program and the employer is responsible for managing that program or developing that program, what the training looks like. And there was a point that you made where you said that SHRM will provide the educational component to that. Can you talk a little bit more about that for maybe some of our listeners that are considering offering the registered apprenticeship program?
Mary Wright: Sure. The apprenticeship program has two basic requirements. It says that the apprentice must have 2000 hours of time of on-the-job learning. And we prescribe, or we identify what we think are the correct buckets of work, I would call it that. And that's all based on the SHRM BASK, the body of applied skills and knowledge. So we've taken everything that SHRM has decided is important in recognizing an HR person of value. We've taken all of that content and said, okay, so here's what the person has to learn while they're on the job, the experiences they have to have. But we've said as the Department of Labor requires, and what a great apprenticeship program does, is that there has to be that learning content. There has to be, as I've started to call it, the instruction manual before you start to operate the machinery, or while you're operating the machinery, it's good to go back and take a look at how is it that I'm really supposed to be doing it, and what do the experts really say about this?
So that content is material that SHRM has created over the years that is being used actually currently in four year institutions across the country that want to offer HR classes, because we are the experts in what that content should be. We've spent a lot of time honing that experience. So we offer this content, which is available as, I call it a self-guided adventure because this is something that you do on your own with the help of your supervisor if you have questions to be able to do the content, the educational component. What we do ask the supervisors to do is to think about what that educational component is and what's covered in those PowerPoint presentations, how that matches up to the on-the-job learning that they've identified?
So we're hoping, for example, that if you know your comp and ben, the review is about to come up the end, that wonderful end of the year time to decide what everybody is going to be earning, that whole review cycle, that perhaps prior to that review cycle starting, you'd have the apprentice go through a lot of that educational material so that they have the background for it. So then when they're thrown into the whole comp and ben review process, they will have had that educational part, they've got some foundation, so then they can have those wonderful aha moments. Remember we've all had those where we go, oh, but unfortunately it usually happens for those of us who've been in four year schools and not working while we're in school. We have that aha moment three years later when we say, well, that's why they were having me read that. And maybe I should have read it a little closer. Maybe I should have been thinking about that a little bit more about how that is applied to when I'm actually working.
And that's really the magic of the apprenticeship program, is that idea that you can be guiding that employee through learning, getting the background for what it is they're about to do, and then they can apply it and then you as a supervisor can see, yes, they get it or no, I can see that we need to be doing a little bit more work. So that's the excitement of the apprenticeship program. I will say the other thing about the apprenticeship program that I think is a great piece of it is that notion that whenever we hire someone, and Monique, I'm sure you and I have both done this, we hire a new person and we say, I am going to make sure that I train this person exactly the way I want them. I'm going to make sure they know everything and it's going to be great.
But what do we do? The poor person arrives. We show them where the bathroom is, we show them where the cafeteria is, we introduce them to three or four more colleagues. And, of course, this is becoming far more complicated now when so many people are remote. You do that kind of quick orientation and then you have a project that you need to be doing. So what do you do? You throw that new person into the deep end and you hope they swim. Now that's lovely and some people do just fine. Those people who are exceptionally resilient maybe have had experience in this field. That's great. But the folks that think about that as a new person, you're still, you're standing there looking at the wall going, I don't know what I'm supposed to be doing. Because in an apprenticeship program, we've outlined that this is what the apprentice needs to learn. And you've had to decide as far as on the job learning, and you've also said they have to complete this educational component, it actually should make it easier for you to supervise this person, because we've laid it out for you.
We even give you a checklist on a platform that tells you here's what it's going to do, and you can plan that all out for them. And the apprentice can also then see, they can contribute to that plan. So both of you have this commitment to each other to be sure that you've outlined what it is they're going to do and they understand what they're responsible for, which to me that seems a heck of a lot simpler than having to create the entire new onboard or onboarding for a new employee.
Monique Akanbi: Awesome. And I'm just thinking and speaking to other students or emerging professionals that are considering going into human resources. And I'm often asked the question, I'm getting my bachelor's degree, should I get my master's in human resources or should I get my SHRM certification? And I advise them accordingly and certainly tell them it's completely up to them. But one of the key things I tell them is that no matter how much you read about human resources, it is that applied skill. It is not until you get into that situation or you encounter that scenario where the true evolution of human resources or just that skillset happens. And so I love that there's a component of providing the training or the guide, but also how does that then translate to the apprentices work as well. And so when we hear about apprenticeships and as you were talking and you made a comment that says, earn as you learn. And what I thought about is, well, how is that different from an internship?
Mary Wright: So what we like to say in the field is internships are try before you buy.
Monique Akanbi: Okay.
Mary Wright: Because you are there, think of yourself as a student. You're in between semesters probably. You are trying to decide, is this what I'd like to do? I don't know, or is this the company I want to do this with? And I don't have a whole lot of commitment to this. I'm seeing whether or not I like this. This is like the kids who used to volunteer in hospitals and discovered that they can't stand the sight of blood, and you'd like them to find that out before they join your company. So that's the internship. The apprenticeship is trained to retain, because you've said you're making a significant commitment to this person. You're hiring this person as a full-time employee, that's the other big difference, is an apprenticeship is a full-time employee. This isn't a temporary job. This isn't a kind of, well gee, we'll see if it works out. This is a real job the same way if you hired somebody off the street who also had no experience, you're hiring this person.
But on the apprentices side, they are also making a huge commitment to exploring this career. And they're really saying, I'm going to do the educational part. I'm going to work for you. You're paying me to do this and I really see that you're making a commitment in me. So there's a real nice balance here between the employee and the employer. The employer is making a promise. I'm going to train you. And the apprentice is saying, okay, I'll be trained. This is good. So that's the real distinction other than the fact that an intern is not an FTE. So you can hire somebody who's 16 years old and you can see how that works out. Obviously a lot of employers look at internships as a way to decide. They get 10 interns, yeah, they recognize they want to keep that one Monique who was fabulous, they're going to keep her and they're going to do their best to bring her back after she graduates. But this really is a chance where you're saying, no, I'm going to make the commitment to this person now and this is my FTE.
Monique Akanbi: Okay, so many of my colleagues and peers when I'm asked the question, how did you get in human resources? And I always say, I didn't choose human resources, HR chose me. And actually for me, when I graduated from high school, I thought I was going to be a pharmacist. I wanted to be a pharmacist. And I actually did an internship and went through a pharmacy tech program. And that's where I decided, this is not for me. This is not for me. And at the time, I was working in human resources at the time and I was like, I love this work. And so that's how I made the decision to go into HR. And it was good to find out before committing 60 years of education for a pharmacy program that that's not really what I wanted to do. So I absolutely love that you shared that.
And then training to retain. And what I learned also is that about 94% of apprentices who complete an apprenticeship program retain employment, and that 93% of those apprentices retain employment after the program has been completed. And that there's over 600,000 active apprentices across our nation right now today. And so as I think about, or as we think about just where we are in the world in terms of a skills gap, but then also the war, I call the war on talent, because there are more job openings than there are candidates. And so this is a really great way for employers, especially those employers that maybe a small employer that really doesn't have a dedicated HR person, but maybe an office manager that has now assumed HR responsibilities.
I know a friend of mine who worked in accounting and at her organization they told her they needed someone in HR. So they just moved her over to HR. And even in thinking about that where the HR registered apprenticeship program would've been really great in her transition and providing that education and that guide so that way she's successful in her role in human resources. Do you have, or do you know of anyone that has, or an employer, or maybe an apprentice that has already started or completed the HR registered apprenticeship program?
Mary Wright: So right now I think we've just broken 30 apprentices. Yeah, the numbers that you were given for the huge numbers of apprentices, continues to grow every year. We're very excited as a, I'm a apprenticeship ambassador for the Department of Labor. So those numbers we're very excited about the growth and we were very pleased to see that even during the pandemic, the numbers of apprentices continued to grow. I think that's could be partly because people were having to come up with new ways to bring talent in and perhaps the remote worker, you could still do that as an apprenticeship program.
The folks that we have seen who've come into the program so far, we do not have, I will start by saying though we do not have anybody who's graduated yet because it is that minimum 2000 hours and the 144 hours of curriculum. So they probably have to be in the program for at least a year in order to complete it. That could be a little shorter if somebody had previous experience that we could give them credit for, but I think you have to assume it's at least a year. What I think we have seen is that there are a lot of companies who are taking advantage of the program as an upskilling opportunity. So you're absolutely right. The folks, I think back in the dark ages when we had receptionists, remember then?
Receptionist was always the one who was doing all that back office stuff for HR, remember she was, usually she, was doing all that stuff like travel reimbursements or making sure that somebody had actually signed up for their healthcare or doing all that stuff that had to be done. And those people often do not have a college degree. And their pathway into HR was always really kept back because we had those requirements for the four year degree. But this is a real opportunity to say no, obviously we know this person has aptitude for this. They've been doing some of the work for us, but they just haven't had the opportunity for whatever reason to be able to get that experience and be able to be promoted and to move up. So we are certainly seeing that a lot of folks are doing this, the creating that position. The thing that we're always concerned about though with using an apprenticeship is we really have to be sure that the person has a supervisor who really can say, yes, I can see that you are mastering this content.
So often a CHO, or excuse me, a CEO, can take on that particular requirement, but we're also hoping that SHRM members within local chapters will take on some of that mentoring responsibility, particularly for smaller companies. Even if the person who's the HR person who's bringing on the apprentice may have the SHRM-CP and has mastered the content themselves, there are oftentimes where there are parts of an HR job maybe that we are not that fond of. There's one piece that's like, I really know I have to do this, but oh my God, don't make me do it today and don't make me train somebody on this.
We're hoping that there's someone else within the SHRM chapter who says, I love whatever that might be. And I'd be more than happy to mentor that apprentice. And think of what a great experience that is for the apprentice to have a chance to see what's going on in another company. We often learn the best things from looking at how other people do it. We also know that mentors often come from outside our company, the person that we rely on. And it's also sometimes really nice to have a mentor separate from a supervisor, because they can't always fill both roles very well. So we're really hoping that SHRM chapters will take this as a real opportunity to also to do that, but also that allows them to build some networking amongst their members and really give them a new sense of, oh, now I understand how I'm helping to promote the profession outside of just my own work. And you can get PDC credit for being a mentor as well as getting PDC credit for being the supervisor of an apprentice.
Monique Akanbi: Okay, great. And you mentioned chapters. I know that you have been hard at work speaking with our over 500 affiliates, just to educate them about the HR Registered Apprenticeship Program or HR RAP, and letting them know ways that they can participate or support and share this with their community at large and get employers to buy in to participate in this program and highlight the benefits of being able to participate in this program to maybe address some of those challenges that they're experiencing with either attracting or even retaining talent. What should employers or even our chapters do if they want to participate or if they want to learn more about the HR RAP program?
Mary Wright: So you're absolutely right. I have been traveling, now that we can travel again, I have been traveling to local chapter meetings as well as state council meetings. I know I'm going to be making presentations to a number of states over the next couple of months, and I'm excited to be able to do that. I think sometimes it does take a while and a number of, you have to hear about something a number of times before it seems to make sense and you can see why that would work for you. But what I would do, what certainly I'm happy to talk to any chapter counsel that wants to know more about that, I'm happy to do presentations and help plan for a really powerful one. I think there's lots of opportunities to use the HR RAP as a way to perhaps recruit members, get other people interested in the SHRM chapter, perhaps bring in some members that you've been... Some bigger companies you've been trying to get interested in your program. So I think there's a way to help with a number of the outreach efforts for the chapter itself.
But I'm also happy to, if anybody has questions, we do have a website and you can certainly reach us through that. There is a couple of ways to give us your name and number and we're happy to get in touch with you. But I really want anybody to think about this as I understand I have a talent issue in my HR department and I'm thinking perhaps a different way of attracting talent and getting talent in my organization could be really useful. And this SHRM program, how can that help me do that? Because we're ready to support you and ready to help think about how you would recruit for this person and then certainly providing what kind of training is available. So please reach out to the HR, it's the HRapprentice.org. Please reach out and we're happy to get back to you and figure out how we can help.
Monique Akanbi: Thank you so much for that, Mary. And last question, so to speak, but if I was an employer and I've just listened to this podcast and you've made some really great points and now I'm on the fence of, do I take that first step? What would you say to our listeners if they are strongly considering reaching out and learning more and participating in the HR RAP?
Mary Wright: So again, it's how successful have your new recruits been? What has been the thing that you didn't like perhaps about the way you've been recruiting previously? And could you see that actually training someone to meet your criteria and be the kind of person you want to have because they've got the raw skills, but they need that sculpting, that molding that you might be able to do. I can also say certainly we can go through the return on investment numbers. We certainly have, the numbers that Michigan has put together says that investing in an apprentice for the HR program gives you a return of about three to one. So for every dollar you put in, you're getting a $3 return. Part of that is because you can pay the person less than you would have paid a "fully trained entry level person" because they don't have the skills, we understand that.
And so you don't have to pay them the going rate. You have to pay them the going rate for bringing somebody in, but you are able to then give them, reward them over the time of the apprenticeship as they learn more and have mastered certain competencies, then you can pay them more. But initially, you certainly can bring them in at a lower rate. But that's not the main reason to do this. The main reason to do this is because this will give you someone who will be trained the way you want them to do HR, and you really will be creating the person that you really need within your department.
Monique Akanbi: And what other reason then to use a SHRM led program to be able to do that.
Mary Wright: Of course. Of course. Why would you do this without SHRM if you can do it with them? Absolutely. I should have thought it myself, Monique. Nice call. Nice call.
Monique Akanbi: That's all I kept thinking about as you were thinking about when you were talking, why else would-.
Mary Wright: Why would you do anything else? Exactly. I'm going to have to remember that one. I like it.
Monique Akanbi: Absolutely. Now as we are wrapping up, I have been hearing a lot about alternative credentialing. So as we talk about the talent acquisition challenges, the skills gap and some of the challenges that employers are facing within the workforce, and there has now been more talk about alternative credentialing. Can you tell us a little bit more about that?
Mary Wright: Sure. And this is a new favorite topic of mine, so thank you for bringing that up. One of the things about the topic, alternative credentials as we've defined that historically as been anything that is not a two or for your degree. So all the certificates, all the credentials, all the things that are the Google certificates, Microsoft stuff, all the things you think about in IT, they've been called alternative credentials. And we've come to the conclusion that alternative is an icky word. We talk about alternative milk products. You can't drink real milk, so you have to go over something fake, or alternatives. And it's like, what's wrong with these? Why is this an alternative? An alternative to what?
So what we've decided is we really need to call these a different name that demonstrates their real value to both the holder of the credential as well as to the employer who's trying to understand what skills somebody has. So we have decided that we like the word skilled credentials. And you'll be seeing from us a major release around trying to get people to talk about skilled credentials, which is really all about the skills-based hiring process. And how is it that you're really identifying what's the skill that you really need from this person? Not necessarily just "the pedigree." And don't get me wrong, I have a four year college degree. I've paid for two children to go through and get a [inaudible] degree. And I think those are, it's distinct value, but we've also had to talk to our children about, so what skills did you learn and how is it that you are promoting those as you go and talk to employers?
So we're really talking about how is it that we get those skilled credentials out there and how does that help an employer in general? But how does it also help that untapped talent populations, the folks who do not have two and four year degrees, how do we make it so that those folks can take that skill that they have, represent it as something that is of value to employer and therefore get the job they need and want and deserve, and the employer then gets the talent that they need as well. So there's lots more to come about skilled credentials, and we'll keep trying to remember to call it skilled credentials because I think that's really what they represent.
Monique Akanbi: Absolutely. And I think about my daughter who just graduated from high school and has not decided if she wants to go to college just yet. And so being the HR mom, so a lot of my HR skills, I apply it to my kids as well. And so we have been focusing on skills and what skills can she acquire that will be transferable no matter what industry she decides to go in, or no matter what sector she decides to go in. So I look forward to learning more about skilled credentialing and would love to have you back on to share a little more about that and what maybe employers can do to support that, or if I am someone that is looking to participate or to acquire more skills, just to help close that skills gap that we're all facing. I'd love for you to come back on and share a little more about that.
Mary Wright: I would love to do that. And we're going to be having a number of things released over the next few months, which we think are going to be both informational and resources, but also becoming some tools that employers can use to better leverage all those skills that people have and how they leverage their existing staff by being sure that they're identifying the skills that those folks have, and then being able to do a better job of upskilling to be able to be sure that they have the skills that they need in order to be more successful.
Monique Akanbi: Well, Mary, thank you so much for joining me today to talk about the HR Registered Apprenticeship Program. As we mentioned, this episode is approved for 0.75 PBC towards SHRM-CP and SCP recertification. You can claim your 0.75 PBC by entering the following activity code into your recertification portal, 23-47ZJX. If you haven't already, please subscribe and follow Honest HR, however you listen to your podcast. Also, reviews have a real impact on a podcast visibility. So if you enjoy today's episode, leave us a review and help others find the show. Feel free to reach out to me on social media, Monique Akanbi, and we look forward to you joining us again. And also to learn more about Honest HR, head to SHRM.org/HonestHR and you can hear more podcasts from SHRM at SHRM.org/podcast. Thank you again for joining us on Honest HR, and we'll see you later.