One Business's Model of Apprenticeship Takes Things to a Whole New Level

The 100 year-old program has had remarkable success.

Apprenticeships are a great way of learning a skill that can be used in the job market. Unlike many Bachelor's degrees, apprentice programs in trades such as electrical, carpentry, welding, etc. are often accompanied by better job opportunities after these programs have finished. Some companies like Huntington Ingalls Industries are showing how these programs can pay off for both apprentices and the company.

Huntington Ingalls is one of America's biggest shipbuilding companies, with locations in Newport News, Virginia and Pascagoula, Mississippi. The company builds ships, submarines, and aircraft carriers for the United States Navy. In this industry, there are many different kinds of jobs that need to be filled, and the company is doing that through its model apprenticeship program.

The "apprentice school" is a highly competitive institution, with acceptance rates even lower than some elite colleges. The 100 year-old program offers other companies a shining example of how to run a business that trains up their future employees.

Workforce education is embedded in the culture at Huntington Ingalls. There's not much room for error or sloppy work on a nuclear-powered submarine. Yet, as CEO Mike Petters points out, few high schools or colleges teach shipbuilding. So the company feels it has little choice: It has to grow its own. "The heart of our business," Petters says, "is the people who come through our gate every day. Without them, we wouldn't be in business. We have to invest in them."

The company leaves few stones unturned: It invests in virtually every kind of educational institution at every stage along the workforce pipeline. With vast production facilities in Newport News, Virginia, and Pascagoula, Mississippi—it's the largest employer in both states—the firm maintains partnerships with local elementary schools, middle schools, high schools, community colleges, four-year colleges, and engineering programs. Executives sit on local workforce investment boards. The company runs its own night school. A generous tuition reimbursement program helps cover costs for employees who go back to college. And both facilities use expos, career days, job shadowing, internships—every means at their disposal—to recruit workers. But the crown jewel of the company's workforce strategy is the Apprentice School in Newport News.

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