IMPRINT: Immigrant Professional Integration

To Fight Brain Waste, Apprenticeships, Work-based Learning Models Offer Promise

Ample evidence shows that apprenticeships can help match the skills of workers with the needs of employers. When paired with additional training through pre-apprenticeship programs, apprenticeships and other work-based learning models have also proven to be effective tools for helping to reduce barriers to employment for work-authorized immigrants and refugees who have education and experience from outside the U.S.

The economic benefits of apprenticeship programs have been impressive. In Washington, for every dollar invested in apprenticeship programs, taxpayers received $23 in net benefits—the highest return of all workforce-training programs in the state. A 2012 10-state study shows that apprentices earned $240,000 more over their lifetimes compared to other workers.

Despite these results, apprenticeships have not been widely used in the U.S. But this is beginning to change. In recent years, states and private industry, particularly within the health care sector, have begun to partner to develop new work-based learning programs and apprenticeships that include tailored services for immigrants with training outside the U.S.

In 2017, Maryland established the state’s first competency-based apprenticeship program for healthcare professions. The program offers support to all workers in the state, including work-authorized immigrants, who receive contextualized ESOL instruction and individualized career support. Funded by the U.S. Department of Labor’s ApprenticeshipUSA program through the Maryland Department of Labor, Licensing, and Regulation, the program is a partnership between the Baltimore Alliance for Careers in Healthcare (BACH), Johns Hopkins Hospital, University of Maryland Medical System, Levindale Hebrew Geriatric Facility, and Community College of Baltimore County.

Since its launch, the program has expanded from one to four occupations and employers. All of the programs include immigrants and refugees with relevant experience from outside the U.S. BACH actively recruits immigrants through community outreach and engages state and local government officials to ensure the public is aware of the programs. Community awareness about the program has also grown organically within immigrant communities. Program administrators report receiving near daily calls from immigrants and refugees who are eager to enroll.

Another innovative model for healthcare career pathways can be found in Boise, Idaho, where a pre-apprenticeship program provides contextualized English to prepare students to become Environmental Services Technicians. Saint Alphonsus Hospital hires students that graduate from the course and offers tuition reimbursement for employees, allowing them to get an initial foothold in the healthcare career ladder and obtain higher-level certifications. The program is supported by the federal Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) and is a partnership between Saint Alphonsus, International Rescue Committee, Metrics Reporting, College of Western Idaho, Idaho Department of Labor, Idaho Department of Health and Welfare and Goodwill International. The first cohort of 12 participants completed the program in 2018, and a new group is preparing to start a second course.

LaGuardia Community College in New York City offers a work-based learning program that has helped remove barriers to employment for immigrants in the healthcare sector. Through the Bilingual Medical Assistant Training Program, English language learners acquire clinical and language skills to help them land jobs in the bilingual medical assistant field. Participants gain work experience during a 100-hour internship in local community health centers and doctors’ offices, and also receive assistance with their job search through resume and interview skills-building.

Although the program does not require that students have foreign training in healthcare, it does target English language learners, many of whom have relevant experience from outside the U.S. Funded by the New York City Department of Small Business Services and Robin Hood, the year-long program is offered tuition-free and relies heavily on its employer partners, who interview prospective students, provide input on programming, and assist with job placement. The first cohort of students graduated in 2017.

Several federal funding streams can support the creation of these powerful programs. Last year, the U.S. Department of Labor distributed $150 million to expand apprenticeships in key industry sectors, including $50 million in competitive grants to states. Currently, 36 states receive federal apprenticeship funding.

States can leverage a number of federal funding streams, including Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), Supplemental Nutrition for Needy Families Employment and Training (SNAP E&T), and WIOA funding, which can be used to support costs associated with participating in an apprenticeship program, including support services and training. WIOA funding can also be used to bring together industry partners to ensure investments are tailored to business needs. Federal funds that support career and technical education (CTE) programs can also be aligned with, and leveraged to support, apprenticeship programs.

States and cities can also invest resources in apprenticeship programs with businesses, local educational institutions, and service providers. Several states already offer tax credits to encourage employers to hire apprentices, and some states provide tuition support for apprenticeship programs as well as support for additional training through pre-apprenticeship or support for childcare and transportation.

To fully realize the enormous potential work-based learning models offer, federal and state governments should foster innovative approaches and partnerships with business, education, and community-based organizations to recruit, train, and retain more immigrants and refugees in high-quality pre-apprenticeship and apprenticeship programs. There is strong demand for workforce training among members of the immigrant and refugee community with skills and expertise in healthcare—and many other key industries. Responding to that call will be a crucial step in addressing skill shortages to meet the needs of employers’ and communities across the U.S.

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