WSCC Center for Career & Workforce Development reflects on outcomes from expanding community college apprenticeships

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Caleb Sharpe, left, and Laiklind Casey are with YKTA. (WSCC)

HANCEVILLE, Ala. – In July 2019, Wallace State Community College (WSCC) was awarded a grant by the American Association of Community Colleges’ (AACC) for its Expanding Community College Apprenticeships (ECCA) initiative. The AACC ECCA initiative provides support to community colleges, effectively expanding registered apprenticeship opportunities across the country.

At the outset of the grant, Wallace State was tasked with a goal to support 150 apprentices over the next three years.  As the only subgrant recipient among Alabama community colleges, Wallace State’s purview included building support for other colleges in the System.

Christina Holmes, apprenticeship and work-based learning coordinator for WSCC’S Center for Career and Workforce Development, initially provided support to Wallace State’s 42 registered apprentices through career coaching and mentoring. Those apprentices were registered under a variety of occupations such as Industrial Maintenance Mechanic, CNC Machinist, Tool & Die Maker and Truck Mechanic. The apprentices were employed and completed their on-the-job training with employers such as Magna KAMTEK, Sonoco Reel and Plugs, Met-South, Inc., American Trim, Y-Tec Keylex Toyotetsu Alabama, Inc. and Action Resources, LLC.

Some apprentices engaged in a time-based model of apprenticeship, while others participated in a new competency-based model.  Each apprentice completed their related-technical instruction (RTI) in one of Wallace State’s Machining, Mechatronics or Diesel Technology programs, earning an AAS degree and multiple industry-and-nationally-recognized credentials. 

“They accomplished this with the support of their workplace mentors and without the burden of paying for tuition, books or tools, thanks to the benefit of employers’ last-dollar scholarship,” Holmes said. “This is one of the many benefits of participating in a registered apprenticeship in Alabama.”

Last spring, Holmes worked closely with Dr. Rebecca Lake, the AACC ECCA grant coach, with the goal of branching out to serve other apprentices outside of Wallace State’s campus. Dr. Lake is no stranger to apprenticeships, serving as a leading consultant in the field of apprenticeship program development and implementation for colleges. She works with companies to develop their apprenticeship initiatives and previously served as the Harper College Dean of Workforce and Economic Development, located near Chicago, Illinois, administering the college’s registered apprenticeship initiative.

Regarding the Apprenticeship Mentor Training, Dr. Lake said: “These professional development sessions helped both the mentors grow personally and improved the learning of the apprentices. Additionally, they provided sustainability opportunities by serendipitously teaching those apprentices about good mentoring as they become one.”

Wallace State partnered with the Alabama Office of Apprenticeship (AOA) throughout the process, developing an Apprenticeship Mentor Training program. Holmes worked directly with AOA Director Joshua Laney, and Meredith Smith, AOA’s statewide project manager, in addition to Darrell Katz, a learning and development professional with 30 years of training design, delivery and customer relations experience, to develop an Apprenticeship Mentor Training Program for Alabama that aligned with the goals of AOA.  

“The mentor training was designed to cultivate the mentor’s coaching and leadership expertise so they can best support and develop their apprentice,” Katz said. “The training sessions are packed with interactive exercises to simulate workplace events that allow mentors to practice their skills before engaging with their apprentice.” 

Wallace State and AOA partnered to offer a series of seven virtual Apprenticeship Mentor Trainings, with more than 15 different sponsors and employers participating. 

“The ability to provide mentor training has been a major benefit for the Alabama Office of Apprenticeship to provide support and technical assistance to employers. The AACC ECCA grant and the support provided by Wallace State gave us a significant boost in making this training available. Mentors who have participated have universally provided excellent reviews and found the training to be practical and beneficial in their role guiding apprentices,” said Laney of AOA.

Smith added that mentors who attended the training and their employers described it as “an amazing learning experience that equipped their mentors in handling crucial conversations, coaching and deeper conflict resolution.” 

The AOA group also described Mr. Katz as being “a rockstar” and they “would recommend this training to other mentors.”

Several other colleges in the Alabama Community College System, including Bishop State, Calhoun, Coastal Alabama, Lurleen B. Wallace College, Snead State and Wallace Community College-Dothan, sent apprenticeship mentors to the training, ultimately resulting in another 215 apprentices being served through the AACC ECCA grant in Alabama. 

Wallace State completed the grant in June by offering one final session – “The Art and Style of Leadership” facilitated by Katz and delivered to the apprentices currently completing their related-technical instruction at the college. 

“It was a great way to close out the grant. All who participated in this training are leaders in the making,” Holmes said.

The AACC ECCA grant has provided Wallace State an opportunity not only to support its own apprentices, but almost 260 apprentices across Alabama. It has allowed Wallace State to strengthen its working relationship with the Alabama Office Apprenticeship office and some of its fellow community college partners. Through the grant initiative, Wallace State is now supporting additional Registered Apprentices in the occupations of Tool Maker, Operator Engineer and Agricultural Equipment Technician and additional Registered Apprenticeships in Nursing and Early Childhood Education will launch during the Fall 2022 semester. Wallace State’s Center for Career and Workforce Development plans to adopt the mentor training model and offer a similar training for its other work-based learning employers and their mentors, closely working with AOA to deliver future Apprenticeship Mentor Training across the state of Alabama. 

For more information about apprenticeships at Wallace State, contact Holmes at 256-352-8120 or christina.holmes@wallacestate.edu.

For more information about Wallace State, visit www.wallacestate.edu.