Running an Apprenticeship

Register your own apprenticeship? Or work with an intermediary?

Katie Carnevale
Katie Carnevale
July 11, 2024

One of the first questions to ask yourself when beginning an apprenticeship for your organization is, how much do you want to take on, exactly? If you want to fully control your apprenticeship and make apprenticeship a core part of your workforce strategy, you likely want to register and run your own program. However, if you just want to get started without having to become an expert, an intermediary that'll help you navigate the apprenticeship system may be just the solution you're looking for.

This post is only going to begin to scratch the surface of what intermediaries are and what it's like to work with them, but let's start with the basic pros and cons of intermediaries.

What is an intermediary, anyways?

An apprenticeship intermediary comes between you and the complications of establishing and/or running your own apprenticeship program. Becoming a registered apprenticeship program, or sponsor, requires many steps that your organization may not be ready for, nor be interested in learning. Intermediaries are organizations that fill that gap.

They can help you register your program, or you can use their existing apprenticeship standards. Intermediaries may help you connect with partners such as eligible training providers for your related instruction or wraparound service providers. They may even help you recruit potential apprentices. Intermediaries may handle all of the paperwork for your apprentices and employer(s). Most intermediaries allow you to choose some or all of their services, too.

Intermediary Pros

Let's get into the details a bit, shall we? What are the pros of working with an intermediary?

Speed to launch

Intermediaries have been there and done that in the apprenticeship world. Either you can use their standards to have a program immediately, or they can shepherd you quickly through the registration process to help you avoid pitfalls.

Speed to learning

As with any new endeavor, you're going to make mistakes. Maybe you'll realize you should've invested more in mentor training? Or you wrote standards that were too general? Or too specific? Intermediaries have seen those mistakes multiple times and fixed them multiple ways. They'll help your organization learn much, much faster than if you were to go it alone.

Best Practices

In addition to simply learning faster, intermediaries bring best practices to your organization as a starting point. They've seen a variety of mentor training examples. They've seen multiple ways to write standards. They've been to all of the apprenticeship conferences. They've sold the idea of apprenticeship to upper management at a variety of organizations. There is no one size fits all version of apprenticeship, but when working with an intermediary, rest assured that you're starting from the best possible known solution to the problem at hand.

Access to Relationships

Intermediaries are really well connected in the apprenticeship space. They might have access to funding. Or, they might help you access the right contact at an eligible training provider. Maybe they've worked with your Apprenticeship Training Representative at the DOL, and they can advocate on your behalf if you have issues with registration or an audit.

Intermediary Cons

So what're the cons when working with an intermediary? They're honestly few and far between. Most of the cons below are minimal and can be mitigated depending on your agreement with your intermediary.

Lack of ownership

Depending on your relationship with your intermediary, you may find there's less internal investment in an apprenticeship if it's entirely managed by your intermediary, especially if they cover all of the costs. This is just human nature -- we don't often value or appreciate the things that don't come at great cost. If your organization is interested in apprenticeship for the long-term, you'll want to figure out how to make your organization value apprenticeship as you grow.

Another partner to manage

We're not convinced that partnership comes naturally to many organizations. Transactions, yes, but partnership? No. Apprenticeship often requires partnerships -- a school that needs to work with employers, an employer that needs to work with a school. With an intermediary, there's another relationship, another contact that has to be managed. They'll do a LOT for you! But the relationship needs to be managed, too.

Representative of a complex system

This isn't even the fault of intermediaries, but they're representative of an overly complex system (in much the same way as apprenticeship management software is :-). Intermediaries exist because the system of apprenticeship has such a steep learning curve. Much like you may find expediters to work with some departments of buildings in cities across the country, the existence of this role is reflective of a system that needs work. For now, credit for the intermediaries for helping fill the gap, but the apprenticeship system needs to be simpler.

So what should you do?

Our biased advice?

Unless you see apprenticeship as an immediate core competency for your organization that you want to own from beginning to end, you'll very likely benefit from working with an intermediary. As stated above, there are different degrees of this relationship! You can always work with an intermediary to get started, entirely under their standards, and then later you might choose to register yourself with some experience under the organizational belt. Or, maybe you work with the intermediary to create and register your own program, but they help you skip some of the steps to launch as described above. There's very few downsides to working with an intermediary. Regardless of what you end up doing, you should certainly talk to a few potential intermediaries. Stay tuned for future posts about who some of these intermediaries are and how you might find them!