Skip to content

Advancing equity through apprenticeship opportunities for all Californians

Another National Apprenticeship Week comes to a close this week after kicking off Monday with lots of excitement within the apprenticeship field. Since 2019, I have had the privilege to support registered apprenticeship efforts in California through Irvine’s Better Careers initiative. I have watched the field continually grow and adapt, evident by all the National Apprenticeship Week events, webinars, and social media activity highlighting the promise apprenticeships hold for economic advancement for workers living on low incomes.  

National Apprenticeship Week. November 13-19, 2023

Better Careers’ support of registered apprenticeships (apprenticeships that are approved and validated by the U.S. Department of Labor or a State Apprenticeship Agency) has also grown and adapted. Earlier this year, the initiative announced an updated strategy to build a more equitable and inclusive workforce system that can move more workers of color and those failed by multiple systems into quality jobs. As a key component of this strategy, Better Careers is allocating more than $40 million over the next seven years to support inclusive, equity-driven apprenticeships intermediaries – the backbone organizations that connect and support diverse partners to grow equity-centered apprenticeship efforts together – in non-traditional industries: technology, advanced manufacturing, healthcare, early care and education, and more.  

Right now, there is real opportunity and momentum behind this work. Apprenticeships are growing fast, particularly in non-traditional industries. The State of California has a strong commitment to apprenticeships, investing $240 million this year to support Governor Newsom’s ambitious goal of developing 500,000 apprentices by 2030. Better Careers is looking to build on this momentum by focusing our flexible funding on grantee partners that are working to ensure apprenticeship models embed racial and gender equity practices and policies at their core, meet individuals where they are — with dignity and care — and support them throughout their entire apprenticeship journey.  

We believe these organizations are key to providing clear and debt-free paths for more Californians to access quality jobs with family-sustaining wages, benefits, worker power, and opportunities to advance. The Better Careers team is enthusiastic about the registered apprenticeship model because it offers paid work-based learning, provides industry-recognized certifications, includes mentorship, and guarantees wage progressions. These factors allow apprenticeships to open doors to better, higher-wage careers and leads to participants staying in those careers longer.  

But the model itself is not enough to advance racial and gender equity or consistently build worker power. There are still major disparities across racial and gender lines with apprenticeship access, promotion, completion, and wage progression. And equity demands that more effort is put into embedding apprentice voice in program design and implementation — in addition to understanding and building programs around what employers need — so those programs meet participants’ needs and ensure that workplaces are accountable to and create a culture of belonging for all their employees.  

We support organizations that coordinate equity-driven outreach and ongoing wraparound support to apprentices and lead inclusive program design and implementation in deep partnership with multiple stakeholders (regional and local community organizations and nonprofits, community colleges, pre-apprenticeship programs, employers, and others). These organizations amplify worker voice and build worker power by collecting and sharing the needs of apprentices as well as employers, and many of them inform and lead policy and system change efforts to make growing inclusive registered apprenticeship efforts more feasible. 

Our grantee partners play unique roles in creating, supporting, and growing equity and inclusiveness in California’s apprenticeship programs in various regions and growth industries. For example, SEMI Foundation works to create equitable apprenticeships in the microelectronics industry in specific regions.  

Many grantees support apprenticeship programs in industries that provide quality career pathways yet are facing major staffing shortages. These include the Institute for Local Government, which is partnering with small to medium California cities to create and launch public sector apprenticeships, and the Healthcare Career Advancement Program Education Association, which provides deep technical assistance, resources, and convening support to California partners who are implementing inclusive and equitable healthcare apprenticeships.  

Another grantee, the Blue Lake Rancheria, a federally recognized tribe, is designing, planning, and piloting climate-focused apprenticeship programs with and for Tribal communities to ensure programs address new climate and workforce needs and are created and structured equitably for Tribal members.   

We are eager — and humbled — to work closely with, learn from, support, and elevate grantee partners who are pushing to embed racial and gender equity into apprenticeships. We look forward to sharing updates and hope that what we learn informs and grows much-needed efforts (public, private, and philanthropic) to support inclusive apprenticeships. That is an important step toward ensuring all Californians, especially those whose talent and labor have been undervalued, can thrive.  

We welcome the opportunity to learn from anyone engaged in apprenticeship work. Please reach out to to share your thoughts.  

Masthead photo credit: Joyce Xi