A Conversation with Diallo Shabazz on Apprenticeships

This interview covers the Future of Workers Task Force Blueprint’s “Expand and Diversify Apprenticeships” lever.

Editor’s note: This was originally included in NYCETC’s Workforce Development special feature series for the month of September 2023Subscribe here.

This week Gregory J Morris sat down with Diallo Shabazz, Managing Director of Braven Solutions and member of the Future of Workers Task Force steering the development of the “Expand and Diversify Apprenticeships” lever of the Blueprint released in June.

Gregory J Morris, NYCETC: As part of the Future of Workers Task Force, you helped steer the development of the “Expand and Diversify Apprenticeships” lever. What’s the top line/headline related to apprenticeships that you would want them to know?

Diallo Shabazz, Braven Solutions: Apprenticeships are one of the most effective and efficient ways to train and retain qualified workers across multiple industries.

Morris: We know our City has a moonshot goal specific to apprenticeships. What are the challenges right now when you think about where we are now and where we see ourselves in relation to that goal?

Shabazz: There’s a significant amount of apprenticeship activity in New York City, with nearly half of the apprenticeships in the entire state located here. However, until now, there hasn’t been a focused effort to create an interconnected apprenticeship ecosystem to guide and catalyze these efforts. The apprenticeship accelerator announced by the Mayor aims to integrate and scale this system. Another challenge we face is changing the perception of apprenticeships. While apprenticeships have been around for centuries, they have evolved significantly. To quote Abby Jo Sigal, “This is not your grandfather’s apprenticeship. This is your daughter’s apprenticeship.” Many cities and states have launched successful publicity campaigns to promote apprenticeships, but we haven’t done that on a large scale in New York City yet, although it’s one of the recommendations in the report.

Morris: What is the pitch to employers on the apprenticeship side? Sometimes they’re familiar. Sometimes not. I’ve also heard employers say, ‘I love the concept, but I don’t know how to make it work.’ I’ve heard job training programs say the same.

Shabazz: In workforce development, we love our acronyms, such as ATR, which stands for Apprenticeship Training Representative. These individuals work with employers and training partners to design apprenticeships, connecting employers with experts in apprenticeship design and HR. This helps employers understand how apprenticeships align with their skill needs and validated credentials, as well as the costs and available resources or incentives, like tax breaks or grant opportunities.

Morris: Is there a specific cost/average cost/projected cost for what an apprenticeship might look like if you were starting from scratch?

Shabazz: The cost of starting an apprenticeship program varies depending on the type of training and industry. There are established models that have worked for employers, which can be adapted to the needs of interested companies.

Morris: When you think about who’s doing this well right now, are there specific industries, occupations? Is it the trades? Who is finding success with apprenticeships now?

ShabazzOver 80% of apprenticeships, both statewide and nationally, are in the construction trades, a trend that has persisted for some time. However, other sectors like healthcare, information technology, and advanced manufacturing are increasingly adopting apprenticeships. When designed according to federal or state guidelines, these programs (known as registered apprenticeship) provide opportunities for a more diverse workforce. There are also numerous apprenticeships in New York that are unregistered. These unregistered programs, though not formally recognized, can still offer high-quality training and should be supported as long as they meet specific quality criteria, ensuring family-sustaining wages and validated skills for participants.

Morris: I want to build on that for one second because the topic of registered apprenticeships has come up a lot. What is the best way to identify the difference is between registered and unregistered apprenticeship?

Shabazz: A registered apprenticeship has standardized guidelines that have been set out by the state or the federal government, guaranteeing a structured “earn and learn” program including on-the-job training, adequate time for skill development, and validated credentials. This methodology is designed to ensure that individuals have ample time to develop and refine their skills. At the same time, you may have companies that have developed excellent training programs similar in quality and duration to apprenticeships. However, they might hesitate to go through the formal registration process due to various factors, such as the processing time for approval, a lack of technical assistance in designing the program, or restrictions on how the training curricula can be updated. There are ongoing discussions among those who govern apprenticeships about the regulatory framework, and they haven’t reached a consensus yet.

Morris: How do we resource the investment that it takes to build the job readiness, internship, mentorship, pre-apprenticeship, and apprenticeship pipelines- and how do we do that for populations that have not historically been able to find a foothold in apprenticeships?

Shabazz: Apprenticeships represent a systemic approach to training, certifying, and placing individuals. While they have a long history, they continue to be innovative when designed effectively. I think workforce training organizations and employers that don’t have an apprenticeship strategy in the near future will find themselves disrupted from a recruitment and training standpoint. Apprenticeships will soon become a key part of talent development strategies for serious companies.