LOUISVILLE, KY—OCTOBER 14, 2020
Industries across the United States have been struggling for years to fill open positions with qualified workers. Despite widespread recognition of the problems industries face, the skills gap has continued to widen.
Rather than bringing new solutions, 2020 instead saw a global pandemic make an already-tough jobs situation worse. Due to the COVID-19 crisis, millions of American workers have lost their jobs, many of them permanently.
As the U.S. seeks to recover from “the most devastating economic crisis since the Great Depression,” there is no shortage of problems that must be addressed and solutions that need to be formulated. How effective those solutions are will dictate the speed and scope of economic recovery.
Unlike past economic recovery initiatives that often pushed people toward college degrees, experts believe that our current economic recovery from the COVID-19 Recession must instead focus on practical skill development for jobs industries need. To that end, community colleges and skills training may play a critical role.
Another potential solution with a proven track record of success is apprenticeship. In fact, many believe new industry-recognized apprenticeship programs (IRAPs) will provide fresh opportunities for both American workers and industries that desperately need skilled talent. How? IRAPs will expand the use of the apprenticeship model to industries that haven’t used it or have underutilized it in the past.
What Are IRAPs?
So what exactly are IRAPs anyway? According to the U.S. Department of Labor’s (DOL) Apprenticeship.gov website:
“Industry-Recognized Apprenticeship Programs are high-quality apprenticeship programs recognized as such by a Standards Recognition Entity (SRE) pursuant to the DOL’s standards. These programs provide individuals with opportunities to obtain workplace-relevant knowledge and progressively advancing skills. IRAPs include a paid-work component and an educational component and result in an industry-recognized credential. An IRAP is developed or delivered by entities such as trade and industry groups, corporations, non-profit organizations, educational institutions, unions, and joint labor-management organizations.”
For example, the Smart Automation Certification Alliance (SACA) was recognized as one of 18 initial organizations designated as an SRE by the DOL on September 23, 2020. SACA may now evaluate and recognize IRAPs consistent with DOL standards.
What are those standards? According to the DOL’s IRAP Fact Sheet, high-quality IRAPs must meet the following 10 requirements:
- Paid Work
- Written Training Plan
- Written Apprenticeship Agreement
- Specialized Knowledge and Experience
- Equal Employment Opportunity
- Credit for Prior Knowledge
- Industry-Recognized Credentials
- Disclosure of Costs and Fees.
When Were IRAPs Created?
IRAPs are a relatively-new solution in the area of workforce development. Their history can be traced back to June 15, 2017, when President Trump issued an Executive Order to Expand Apprenticeships in America.
According to a DOL press release, the order established the 20-member Task Force on Apprenticeship Expansion, which was “headed by the Secretary of Labor and co-chaired by the Secretaries of Commerce and Education.”
The DOL’s IRAP Fact Sheet notes that the president’s order “directed the Secretary to consider proposing regulations that promote the development of apprenticeship programs by third parties…especially in sectors where apprenticeship programs are insufficient.”
The Task Force subsequently recommended the establishment of IRAPs in May 2018. Eventually, as the IRAP Fact Sheet notes:
“To address America’s skills gap and to rapidly increase the availability of high-quality apprenticeship programs in sectors where apprenticeship opportunities are not widespread, the [DOL] has issued a Final Rule that establishes a system for advancing the development of high-quality IRAPs.”
IRAPs then became official when new regulations took effect on May 11, 2020.
How Do IRAPs Differ from Traditional Apprenticeships?
According to a recent Forbes article by Ryan Craig:
“For years, policy makers have struggled with the question of how to expand apprenticeships from traditional blue collar building and industrial trades to fast-growing sectors like technology, healthcare, and professional services. On a per capita basis, the U.S. is far behind other nations: Germany has nearly 20x as many apprentices, and the UK has 14x.”
Craig further notes that the goal of IRAPs is:
“to increase the number of actual American apprentices from 500,000 to 5 million by decentralizing apprenticeship authority from the DOL to hundreds of third party IRAP authorizers [SREs]…The expectation is that while DOL registered apprenticeships are infamous for the amount of paperwork required, IRAPs will be much less onerous and therefore more popular.”
Rather than taking apprenticeships in an entirely new direction, IRAPS are “intended to run in tandem with the department’s long-established registered apprenticeship program,” according to an article from the Community College Daily website. Indeed, the DOL’s IRAP FAQ clearly notes:
“IRAPs and RAPs [Registered Apprenticeship Programs] will work on parallel tracks with the support of the Department. The Registered Apprenticeship system has produced successful results in many industries for over 80 years and it will continue to do so. The industry-led, market-driven approach outlined in the IRAP final rule will give employers and other stakeholders the additional flexibility necessary to expand the apprenticeship model into new industries where registered programs are less prevalent and to address the diverse workforce needs of different industries and occupations. IRAPs provide a new apprenticeship pathway that lets industry organizations take the lead in identifying high-quality apprenticeship programs and opportunities based on the needs in their industry.”
Consistent with the goal of expanding the apprenticeship model to new industries, one notable difference between IRAPs and RAPs is that SREs are prohibited from recognizing IRAPs in the construction industry. According to article by Katie Spiker from the National Skills Coalition:
“This carve out was…the subject of a massive campaign by the building trades unions…According to proponents of the construction industry exclusion, and the Department in their justification of excluding construction in the final IRAP rule, the fact that the majority of U.S. apprenticeships are in the construction industry is evidence the model is effective for the industry and that expanding IRAPs to construction is not necessary to meet the goal of expanding apprenticeships in the U.S.”
Who Will Benefit from IRAPs?
The DOL clearly outlines a set of expected benefits to both workers and businesses in its IRAP Fact Sheet. For businesses, the DOL expects IRAPs to:
- provide an additional pathway to assist career seekers and job creators;
- serve the needs of business by expanding apprenticeships across more industries;
- use innovative, industry-driven approaches to scale a proven workforce education model;
- allow more flexibility to design apprenticeship programs that meet business needs; and
- supply an immediate pool of workers for today and skilled talent for tomorrow.
For workers, IRAPs are expected to:
- offer opportunities to earn and learn, while obtaining valuable, portable, industry-recognized, competency-based credentials;
- provide training in standards that are developed by the industry, ensuring an apprentice develops the skillset needed for career success;
- increase the opportunities for apprenticeship programs across all sectors in the economy; and
- provide an alternative to college for finding career success that allows workers to obtain high paying jobs without going into debt.
Katie Spiker echoes the view that both workers and businesses should benefit from IRAPs: “The IRAP initiative is evidence of the need to modernize apprenticeship, expand access to workers to earn industry-recognized credentials and allow businesses to play more of a role in helping tailor the kind of training their workers receive to meet their specific needs.”
While traditional registered apprenticeship programs have been successful for years, Roy Maurer notes in a recent article for SHRM, the Society for Human Resource Management, that “only about 0.2 percent of the U.S. workforce has taken advantage of the programs, primarily in trades and construction.” The DOL believes IRAPs “will effectively expand apprenticeship in telecommunications, health care, cybersecurity and other sectors where it’s currently not widely used.”
Rachel Greszler, senior policy analyst at The Heritage Foundation, believes the benefits to workers are clear:
“The [IRAPs] rule is an important step in opening up more nontraditional and affordable education opportunities that could particularly benefit younger Americans who have been left behind by America’s higher-education system, as well as current workers who have been negatively impacted by changes in industry and technology. It’s not in everyone’s best interest to pursue an expensive four-year college education, and these types of apprenticeships make it possible for individuals to obtain the education they need for a promising career without taking on debt, and instead, actually being paid in the process.”
As U.S. Labor Secretary Eugene Scalia summarized in a DOL press release:
“As workers seek to reenter the workforce following the economic disruption caused by coronavirus, [IRAPs] and the SREs that recognize them will provide new opportunities for Americans to earn a living while learning the skills needed in a changing job market.”
Where Can I Learn More About IRAPs?
According to Ryan Craig:
“There are millions of unemployed workers whose jobs are unlikely to return once the pandemic subsides. So one of the most important policy questions in America today is how they’ll find paths back to work…If there is an answer, apprenticeships will almost certainly play a leading role.”
If you want to learn more about IRAPs and the SREs who will be helping to bring them to life, be sure to check out the DOL’s Apprenticeship.gov website. The latest information and developments will be posted there as IRAPs take shape and begin to fulfill the goal of expanding apprenticeships into new industries while helping workers gain new skills.
LOUISVILLE, KY—AUGUST 17, 2020
The Smart Automation Certification Alliance (SACA) is pleased to announce that it has recently entered into an agreement with Macomb Community College and ATS Midwest to support the college’s efforts to align its education and training to meet the realities of Industry 4.0. Students completing Macomb’s advanced manufacturing programs will soon earn SACA certifications, giving them a competitive advantage in today’s job market.
Today’s students face a far different world of advanced manufacturing than existed a decade ago. While automation technologies have been commonplace for many years, the Internet has brought about a convergence of new “connected” technologies that is revolutionizing how products are made.
Known as the Fourth Industrial Revolution or Industry 4.0, this latest disruption of the advanced manufacturing world is resulting in reduced downtime and increased quality, productivity, and overall efficiency in industries of all kinds thanks to advanced technologies that make up what is known as the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT).
IIoT technologies include such things as advanced robotics, machine learning, artificial intelligence, autonomous vehicles and machines, cloud-based data analysis, and cybersecurity. As companies increase their use of networks and Internet technologies, they are connecting more devices, from smart sensors to smartphones.
As a result, these highly-connected systems require new skills in almost every occupation. To succeed in an Industry 4.0 environment, current workers and today’s students must learn to interact with software, data, networks, and smart devices.
While there are many certifications available today that address isolated competencies, from machining to maintenance and information technology (IT), SACA certifications are different. SACA’s Industry 4.0 certifications certify “connected systems” skills that address the integration of the many types of advanced manufacturing technologies with Industry 4.0 technology.
SACA’s Industry 4.0 certifications have been developed for industry by industry through a rigorous process that began with the creation of truly international skill standards. These standards have been endorsed by leading experts in Industry 4.0 technologies around the world.
Working with forward-thinking institutions like Macomb will enable SACA to accomplish its vision to provide highly-affordable, accessible Industry 4.0 certifications that significantly increase the number of individuals who possess the skills represented by these credentials.
The result will be an increasing number of students prepared to be successful in an Industry 4.0 world, as well as more companies that have the highly-skilled workers they need. Don Hutchison, Macomb’s Dean of Engineering and Advanced Technology, agrees:
In southeast Michigan, industry already needs employees who understand how advanced manufacturing systems integrate. At Macomb, we are listening to industry and creating training for individuals and industry that meets the challenges and opportunities of Industry 4.0. Arming Macomb’s graduates with SACA certification signifies to employers that they are prepared to successfully navigate the complex, integrated nature of today’s manufacturing environment.
Fortunately, Macomb also enjoys the support of local industry. Tom Kelly, Executive Director and CEO of Automation Alley, Michigan’s leading manufacturing and technology business association and Industry 4.0 knowledge center, supports Macomb’s vision:
It is encouraging to see Macomb Community College commit to Industry 4.0 training, which will help to ensure industry receives graduates with employable skills. Today, technology is moving at an accelerated pace which requires a new set of working skills. If our state is to keep pace and maintain a global leadership position in manufacturing, we must transform and continuously develop our talent pipeline.
SACA looks forward to a long relationship with Macomb as they, together with industry partner ATS Midwest, begin a thorough review of all of the college’s advanced manufacturing programs to ensure SACA certification requirements are incorporated into the programs’ core curricula. The parties will also be reaching out to local industry to confirm that SACA certification requirements reflect the skills needed by industry. For more information about SACA and how its Industry 4.0 certifications can prepare your students for the jobs of the future, visit SACA.org or contact SACA Executive Director Jim Wall.
Did you ever have math teachers who were real sticklers for knowing the fundamentals? Frequent reminders to “show your work” were likely accompanied by the admonition that “you’re not always going to have a calculator in your pocket!”
Well, I guess we showed them didn’t we? The smartphones that occupy our pockets today not only have a calculator, a telephone, a calendar, a map, an address book, a clock, a camera, and a music player, they also contain a nearly-limitless variety of applications that give us access to data and capabilities unimaginable a generation ago.
Your smartphone might connect to a smartwatch that keeps track of your heart rate while you read emails on the go. It might also connect to a variety of smart home devices, allowing you to turn on light bulbs, answer the doorbell, and lower the thermostat from anywhere in the world.
The Internet of Things (IoT)
All of these so-called “smart” devices are part of what’s now known as the “Internet of Things” (IoT). The IoT allows a wide variety of devices to connect and communicate using the Internet, making life more convenient in ways many people never dreamed possible.
There are now even voice-activated assistants ready to do our bidding. Today, a call of “Hey Siri!” or “Hey Alexa!” might be followed by a command to turn on the outside lights at home, an inquiry about the state capital of Wisconsin (it’s Madison, by the way), a request for the latest weather forecast, or an appeal for a quick eggs Benedict recipe.
Our lives have been forever transformed by the IoT. Today’s youth have grown up in a world of connected devices. Even older adults, though, now use these devices and understand their benefits. Many of us see how they make our day-to-day lives easier, but do we fully realize how they will impact our jobs, both now and into the future?
The Fourth Industrial Revolution
History buffs will remember that the Industrial Revolution began in the second half of the 18th century when manpower began to be replaced by machines powered by steam or coal. What many people don’t realize, however, is that scholars have identified subsequent revolutions in industry.
The Second Industrial Revolution got its start in the first half of the 19th century when electricity combined with the assembly line to allow mass production. A Third Industrial Revolution traces its roots to the 1950s when the digital age was born with the advent of the first computers and the beginnings of automation.
Today, we find ourselves in the early stages of the Fourth Industrial Revolution when cyber-physical systems, automation, and the IoT will combine to create a Smart Factory environment that holds the potential for a massive impact on industrial efficiency and productivity.
This new Fourth Industrial Revolution goes by a variety of names and terms: Smart Automation, Smart Factory, Smart Manufacturing, the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT), the Industrial Internet, the Connected Enterprise, and Industry 4.0, to name a few. Whatever you choose to call it, it’s both the wave of the future and the present reality.
Smart factories already exist, and they’re getting bigger and better every day. Industry 4.0 pioneers in a wide variety of industries are forcing competitors to embrace Smart Automation as a tool to take them to the next level.
Inside the Smart Factory
What is a Smart Factory like? Envision a facility in which self-driving vehicles communicate with production-line robots to request and deliver necessary parts without human intervention. Imagine these connected machines on the production floor communicating with workers on the top floor to convey a wide variety of information, such as production cycle times, mechanical breakdowns, and predictive maintenance.
Smart robots and machines equipped with smart sensors can generate a virtually-unlimited amount of data (often referred to as “big data”) that can be shared with multiple locations via cloud technology. This data can be used not only to monitor real-time production status but also to predict future maintenance needs. Can you imagine a robot continually analyzing its productivity and condition, so it can order replacement parts or other maintenance needs before it breaks down?
The Skills Gap
At one time, many workers feared the day when robots would replace humans in the workplace. Some still do. However, the reality of Industry 4.0 is quite different. While it’s true that robots and automated machines have replaced some jobs, the advanced technologies required by Industry 4.0 have and will continue to generate a tremendous demand for highly-skilled workers to program, analyze, and maintain the many parts of these complex systems.
That sounds fantastic until you realize that industry experts believe there’s a tremendous shortage of workers qualified to fill these positions. According to a recent study by Deloitte, nearly 3.5 million manufacturing jobs will need to be filled in the next decade. Because of what is commonly known as the “skills gap,” however, experts estimate as many as 2 million of those jobs could go unfilled.
Training for a New World
Despite the fact that we live in a connected world and understand its benefits, many people still lack the skills they will need to thrive in an Industry 4.0 environment. While many people have embraced advanced technology in their personal lives, they lack real-world exposure to manufacturing equipment and processes.
To prepare students and current workers for careers in smart factories, educators and companies must teach skills in a variety of areas, including industrial equipment and technology, smart sensors and smart devices, computerized control systems, network security, and data collection and analysis. Experience with real-world equipment and access to state-of-the-art training will be critical.
Once you gain experience and receive the training you need, how will you market yourself to employers? How can you easily demonstrate to others the skills, experience, and training that you possess?
The Smart Automation Certification Alliance (SACA) offers highly-affordable, accessible Industry 4.0 certifications for a wide range of industries. While many certifications are available today that address isolated competencies, from welding and machining to maintenance and IT, SACA certifications are different. They certify “connected systems” skills that address the integration of these technologies with Industry 4.0 technology.
SACA’s vision is to provide certifications that significantly increase the number of individuals who possess the skills represented by these credentials. This will ensure that companies have the highly-skilled workers they need, and individuals are prepared to be successful in Smart Factory jobs that require certified “connected systems” skills.