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Apprenticeships and Customized Training

Apprenticeships | Customized Training


Overview of Apprenticeships

Apprenticeship is an effective work-based learning approach that builds worker skills and establishes pathways to higher levels of employment and wages.

Apprenticeship is an “earn and learn” model in which apprentices earn wages from the first day on the job. There are over 150,000 employers within more than 1,000 occupations, including Advanced Manufacturing, Construction, Energy, Finance and Business, Healthcare, Hospitality, Information Technology, Telecommunications and Transportation. Using apprenticeship as a workforce strategy will contribute to higher performance outcomes in employment, retention, earnings and credential attainment.

WIOA identifies several strategies for a more responsive and successful workforce development system: Increased focus on youth, sector strategies, career pathways and business as a partner. These strategies are at the heart of the apprenticeship model. The foundation of apprenticeship is built upon responsive and complete industry engagement that can support regional economies.

WIOA includes several changes that strengthen Registered Apprenticeship as a resource, a training strategy and as a partner in the workforce system.

  • WIOA specifies inclusion of a member of the apprenticeship system on state and local workforce boards.
  • WIOA puts Registered Apprenticeship programs on the Eligible Training Provider List making apprenticeship sponsors eligible to receive federal workforce funding.
  • WIOA supports apprenticeship as a workforce strategy for youth. WIOA promotes greater use of work-based learning and a stronger emphasis on business services.

    • With employers being at the center of the apprenticeship model, industry is automatically at the table. Therefore, apprenticeship aligns perfectly with sector strategies, industry partnerships and other investments in meeting the needs of the business community.
      Registered apprenticeship pointing to four circles: Career pathways, work-based learning, business services, sector strategies.

According to a report published by ODEP in 2015, “Registered Apprenticeship Programs: Improving the Pipeline for People with Disabilities,” Completion of a Registered Apprenticeship (RA) program should be considered as a possible option for promoting successful long-term employment outcomes for people with disabilities at competitive salaries and with little or no educational debt.

The Presidential Executive Order Expanding Apprenticeships in America is another legislative strategy to reform America’s education and workforce development programs. According to the order, “It shall be the policy of the Federal Government to provide more affordable pathways to secure, high-paying jobs by promoting apprenticeships and effective workforce development programs.”

Updated in January 2017, the Final Rule for Apprenticeship Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) opens more doors to apprenticeship programs for traditionally under-represented groups, including people with disabilities. The final rule expands the requirements to include affirmative action obligations on the basis of disability, including a 7 percent utilization goal for individuals with disabilities in apprenticeship programs. The Final Rule also establishes a mechanism to request applicants and apprentices to self-identify as having a disability.

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Benefits and results that support VR involvement in Registered Apprenticeship:

Under WIOA, VR has a dual customer. Therefore, it is important that services and supports not only lead to value and positive employment outcomes for consumers, but also meet the needs of the business customer while still fulfilling the mission and outcomes of the agency.

For apprentices, benefits include the following:

  • Immediate paid employment;
  • Improved skills and competencies;
  • Incremental wage increases as their skills improve;
  • On-the-job training and occupation-focused education;
  • Career advancement;
  • Industry issued, nationally recognized credentials; and
  • Articulation agreements between certain apprenticeship training programs and two- and four-year colleges that create opportunities for college credit and future degrees.

For employers, benefits include the following:

  • Customized training that results in highly skilled employees trained to industry/employer specifications;
  • Increased productivity and knowledge transfer due to on-the-job learning from an assigned mentor combined with related technical instruction;
  • Enhanced retention -- 87 percent of program completers in 2011 were still employed nine months after completing their apprenticeship;
  • Emphasis on safety training that may reduce workers' compensation costs;
  • A stable and predictable pipeline for the development of qualified workers;
  • Recognition of the training program;
  • A systematic approach to training that ensures that employees are trained and certified to produce at the highest skill levels required for that occupation;
  • The ability to conduct a ready assessment of where the employer and employee are in terms of the continuous improvement process; and
  • A proven training model that allows employers to set the benchmark and the structure that can determine the Return on Investment in training dollars.

Value to SVRAs:Apprenticeship is an effective method for SVRAs to achieve outcomes.

Common Performance Measures:

  • Employment at 2nd and 4th quarter: Apprenticeship is an “earn and learn” model offering employment from day one. Registered apprenticeships vary in length but require a minimum of 2000 hours (more than 2 months).
  • Median earnings: Registered apprenticeship programs have built-in earnings gains as skill gains are achieved.
  • Measureable Skills Gain: The apprenticeship model has an increasing skill gain built into all registered apprenticeships.
  • Credential attainment: All registered apprenticeships end in a nationally portable, employer recognized credential.
  • Employer Engagement: Apprenticeship is a direct response to the needs of businesses to provide a qualified workforce that meets skill needs in high demand industries.

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Employer involvement is integral. Employer is the foundation for the RA program and must be directly involved and provider of OJT. Structured OJT with mentoring. Minimum of 2000 hours structured and supervised. Related training and instruction. 144 hours recommend per year. Parallel/front-loaded/segmented options. Reward for skill gains. Increases in skills bring about increases in earnings. National occupational credential. Nationally recognized credential showing job proficiency. Sponsor certifies individual is fully competent for career.

Competitive Integrated Employment:

  • ALL Registered Apprenticeships are in a competitive integrated setting.


  • Although Pre-ETS funding cannot directly pay for apprenticeship or pre-apprenticeship, counseling on occupations available under this model can be included. In addition, informing youth of a pathway to self-sustaining employment outside of the traditional post-secondary environment can be provided to facilitate choices.

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Customized Training



What Is Customized Training?

Customized training (CT) meets the specific skill needs of an employer or a group of employers. This type of training typically includes a commitment from the employer to share costs with the training provider and to hire some or all of the successful graduates of the training program.

CT programs are partnerships between employers and local training providers, such as community colleges or community-based organizations. Partnerships can also include organizations like vocational rehabilitation (VR) agencies and American Job Centers. These additional partners perform critical tasks like managing and convening the partnership, doing recruitment, performing assessment and intake, and providing linkages to supportive services.1

Customized training can be financed in a number of ways. The Federal Government supports CT programs through the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA). Additionally, many states make funding available for CT programs through a variety of resources, including general funds, unemployment insurance off-set taxes, bonds, tax credits, or the lottery.2 CT programs can also be privately funded.

There are many different types of CT, each with its own goals, partnership and management structure, funding streams, target populations, and training design. Some CT meets the requirements of a particular industry sector, and other trainings are based on a particular employer's business needs. This fact sheet highlights some of the most common types of customized training partnerships.

  • Community college training programs: Community colleges across the country offer demand-driven training programs in partnership with local and regional employers. Colleges customize training based on the needs of an employer or a group of employers. One example is the federally funded Trade Adjustment Assistance Community College and Career Training (TAACCCT) grant program. TAACCCT grants provide funding for community colleges to expand and improve training programs to prepare participants for placement in high-wage, high-skill occupations. TAACCCT grantees are required to partner with local and regional employers as part of the grant.3
  • Registered Apprenticeship: Registered Apprenticeship is an "earn and learn" customized training strategy run by the U.S. Department of Labor. These apprenticeships connect job seekers with employer sponsors to provide them with paid work-based learning opportunities and academic instruction in a specific industry sector, like healthcare, manufacturing, or information technology. The goal is to connect employers with workers that meet their specific needs.
  • On-the-job training (OJT): OJT for one or more participants is one method of customized training where training takes place directly on the job site. Trainees learn how to perform critical tasks for their OJT employer with the goal of being hired on upon the completion of training. OJT may be used in conjunction with classroom training.

Note: VR agencies have traditionally used an OJT model for 1:1 skill training and placement. Today, more and more VR agencies are partnering with businesses such as Walgreens and Lowe's to build CT programs.

All of the types of CT identified above are effective strategies that the workforce investment system, including VR, can offer local employers and job seekers.

Webinar View ExploreVR webinar, Introduction to Customized Training in a Job Driven Economy to learn more about current VR customized training models and practices that demonstrate VR collaboration with employers and other community partners.

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What is the value of customized training to VR agencies and their clients?

Often, the business community's perception of VR and VR clients is that they are only seeking entry-level jobs because they lack the skills, education, and experience to compete for higher-level jobs. Customized training is one way to change that perception.

CT is particularly relevant in a challenging economic environment. "Job-driven" workforce development has become a major focus area within many branches of the Federal Government, and therefore is an important part of the White House agenda. Additionally, it is a critical component in WIOA legislation.

The Biden Report (Ready to Work: Job Driven Training and American Opportunity, July 2014 [PDF]) states, "...Simply put, customized training provides ready-to-work individuals with the skills they need to secure good jobs that are ready to be filled." This is well-aligned with the VR system's purpose and mission.

The report also provides details about what currently exists as well as projected activity in this arena. Customized training is at the forefront of these efforts.

Along similar lines, the White House released a report called Progress Update on Job Driven Training and Apprenticeships [PDF] in September 2015. It documents extensive activity underway to expand education and training and open doors to good jobs with good wages.

The government continues to identify what works and to scale up proven strategies. Apprenticeships are recognized as the gold standard of jobs-driven training; investing continues accordingly, achieving the largest growth in apprenticeships in nearly a decade. Work with all stakeholders around career advancement also remains a high priority.

Significant resources are available to maintain and expand current options as well as to create innovative partnerships that will provide job seekers with the skills needed to thrive in lucrative, interesting jobs. Many customized training arrangements lead to immediate employment and provide decent wages as part of the model. The scope and variety of CT programs has expanded beyond the traditional trade industries--employers representing fields such as retail, IT, manufacturing, and hospitality are eager to participate.

Customized training allows VR to position itself as a respected human resources agent for candidate recruitment and for consultation on disability-related supports and services. CT also provides an opportunity for VR to increase career opportunities for clients, and to build collaborative relationships with employers and other workforce initiatives.

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Benefits of Customized Training
  • Customized Training (CT) is leading to improvements in the number and quality of employment outcomes for VR clients, opening doors for people with disabilities to high-quality, well-paying jobs.
  • CT can inform VR staff and clients about up-to-date employment opportunities.
  • CT offers direct connection to jobs: participants become part of a pool of qualified candidates, often paid while training.
  • CT leads to credentialing of candidates, which is valued by businesses.
  • CT offers strategies to get beyond entry-level work by focusing on training for jobs requiring "middle skills," and opens multiple career pathways.
  • CT aligns with federal focus, which brings attention, resources, and funding.
  • Business understands the model of CT. With VR as a partner, a "win-win-win" collaboration is created with benefits to business, VR, and clients.
  • Forming CT partnerships is an efficient way to allocate limited resources. The costs can be reimbursed, shared, or distributed across partners, depending on the CT model.
  • Increased involvement with CT will enhance VR's visibility with businesses as a valuable disability expert, consultant, and supplier of qualified talent pools.

The time is right to jump on the bandwagon! In this economic climate, customized training programs can become a major gateway for people with disabilities to obtain and retain high-quality, well-paid jobs in their communities.

1 Long, David A. (2009). "The Promise of Customized Training: Evidence from the United States."

2 Duscha, Steve & Graves, Wanda Lee. (2006). "The Employer as the Client: State-Financed Customized Training 2006."


Webinar  View ExploreVR webinar, Job-Driven Customized Training: Exploring Innovative Models, to learn about innovative CT programs at two companies: ORION Industries and Starbucks Coffee.


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Applications: Job-Driven Customized Training in State Vocational Rehabilitation Agencies

Historically and to the present, unemployment rates for individuals with disabilities have been high. Today, the public vocational rehabilitation (VR) system is experiencing an expansion in the types of training and placement models being used to prepare VR clients for employment.

This section of the customized toolkit will cite some of the emerging models based on employer partnerships involving Customized Training (CT) with VR. 

CT is job-driven. This means that it’s a training that meets specific needs in the labor market as defined by an industry, an employer, or a group of employers.

Partnerships involve creative collaboration between an employer and others, such as a training provider like a community college or community rehabilitation provider (CRP), VR, and/or other workforce development agencies. Funding resources vary depending on the program, and cost sharing is frequently used as a strategy.

CT programs make good sense. Baby Boomers, individuals in the workforce born in the generation after WW II, are retiring. The need to replace these workers, as well as the need to hire workers with a specific skill set, has employers searching for ways to find or to train skilled workers to match their labor needs. 

VR is developing even more ways to connect with employers. The result is employer/VR partnerships that are expanding from a placement partnership to one of training and placement. This trend is happening in many states and industries, and has the potential to increase the number of people with disabilities entering and succeeding in the workforce.

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VR Customized Training Models

On-the-Job Training (OJT)

On-the-Job Training (OJT) is a CT model with a long history in VR. This program involves a client being placed with an employer in a competitive work setting for a specified amount of time to acquire job skills. Wages are often paid or supplemented by VR funding. 

In a sense, all types of CT could be considered OJT. However, new models (which we will explore below) have emerged.

Registered Apprenticeship

An apprenticeship combines a full-time job with training that prepares the individual to enter a specialized field. While not new, this model has expanded greatly in recent years thanks to increased government funding, and is now known as the Registered Apprenticeship (RA) program in the US. 

No longer are apprenticeships associated only with the trades. RAs can now be found in many industries, including information technology, advanced manufacturing, healthcare, and transportation to meet current labor market needs. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, “With a network of over 150,000 employers in more than 1,000 occupations, ApprenticeshipUSA is developing a new generation of workers to help our nation succeed in the 21st-century economy.”

See the ExploreVR Registered Apprenticeship fact sheet [PDF] to find out more about the opportunities for individuals to “earn while they learn.”    

Webinar View ExploreVR webinar on Registered Apprenticeships, presented by ODEP and the Department of Labor Employment and Training Administration, RA 101: Introduction to Registered Apprenticeships for VR Professionals.

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Industry-Specific or Sector-Based Training

Industry-specific or sector-based training offers exciting opportunities for business/VR partnerships. In this model, CT is developed to address a particular need that an industry or business has identified. Partners can include a specific business or group of businesses, a training partner such as a community college or CRP, and a workforce partner such as the US DOL or a VR agency with clients to refer for training. 

Nebraska VR uses such a model, and has developed a variety of certificate programs: HVAC, Auto Tech, Welding, and Electrician’s Helper. The certificate programs are the result of a partnership with a local Nebraska VR office, core business partners in the area, local schools and a community college.  

The certificate programs were inspired by the Project SEARCH concept. Nebraska’s programs are business-driven, short-term, real-life trainings that teach both technical hard skills and soft skills. Each gives workers the opportunity to acquire the skills that they need to pursue in-demand jobs and careers. Learn more about these programs.

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Community College-Based Training

VR also has a history of sending clients to community colleges for industry-specific training that has been developed by the college via grants or partnerships with specific industries. For example, the Trade Adjustment Assistance Community College and Career Training (TAACCCT) grants were funded by the Obama administration and awarded to nearly 270 community colleges in the latest 4-year TAACCCT grant cycle. 

All grantees partnered with employers within growing industry sectors, such as manufacturing, healthcare, information technology, energy, transportation, energy, and agriculture to train workers for middle-class jobs that will help make sure the US stays economically viable into the 21st century. See the awards for 2014, the final year of awards.

In the next section of the toolkit, we’ll look at some promising CT models that are providing VR clients with training and successful employment opportunities.

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