Harper College to Share Expertise at National Apprenticeship Conference for Community and Technical Colleges

Harper College focuses on building “non-traditional” Registered Apprenticeship programs to meet local workforce development needs.

Since receiving an American Apprenticeship Initiative (AAI) grant in 2015, Harper College has been working to implement Registered Apprenticeships programs for “non-traditional,” white-collar occupations. Harper’s successful Registered Apprenticeship program is nationally recognized and can be a model for other community colleges looking to expand their programs. To share our lessons learned and best practices, we are hosting a national apprenticeship conference October 8-9, 2018 in Palatine, Illinois. During the conference, leaders from community and technical colleges will share expertise for implementing sustainable and modern apprenticeship programs and collaborate to develop strategies to support their local workforce needs.

To date, most Registered Apprenticeship programs are found in the construction trades, auto industry, and ship building. However, to meet today’s workforce development needs, Harper is focused on building “non-traditional”, white-collar programs. This Fall, we will have eight Registered Apprenticeship programs, six of which will be in non-traditional industries. Our non-traditional programs will be for Insurance, Banking and Finance, Sales and Retail Management, Supply Chain and Logistics, Graphic Arts Print Production, and Cyber Security. We will also offer two traditional programs for Industrial Maintenance Mechanics and Computer Numerical Control (CNC) Precision Machining.

Harper’s apprentices receive on-the-job training and complete coursework to earn their Associates in Applied Science (AAS) degree or industry recognized credential, and a U.S. Department of Labor Registered Apprenticeship certificate of completion. As of July 2018, Harper has served 97 apprentices and graduated 24 Registered Apprentices since we received our AAI grant in October 2015. Success of the program is also seen in our program’s high 88% retention rate, compared to 73% overall for the college, and an average GPA of 3.6 (4.0 scale) among participants.

The success of Harper’s Registered Apprenticeship programs rests on three main strategies:

1. Continual Outreach. Harper leverages part-time outreach staff who regularly go out into the community to talk with employers regarding their talent needs, and how Harper’s apprenticeship programs might be the answer.

2. Train-the-Trainer. Our Train-the-Trainer course help employer mentors enhance their skills to guide apprentices through their training and educational process.

3. Academic Coaching. Theses coaches are embedded in the apprenticeship programs to continually meet with the apprentices, faculty, and the employers to support everyone navigate the process and support student retention and completion. 

For community colleges looking to start or expand their Registered Apprenticeship programs in non-traditional fields, Harper’s apprenticeship website includes many resources—such as program fact sheets, trainer manuals, and partnership agreements--that can be adapted for different colleges and shared with their potential apprentices and business partners. Over the three years since receiving our AAI grant, on multiple occasions Harper staff have presented and consulted for other colleges interested in implementing similar programs. We have received such a strong response from people wanting to learn about our programs—over 400 calls and emails, and 200 individuals from around the country visiting our college—that we decided to host a national apprenticeship conference and invite colleges to come together to learn how Harper structured its successful apprenticeship program.

Registration is now open for the conference to take place October 8-9, 2018 at Harper College in Palatine, Illinois. The conference will be an opportunity for deans, administrators, and directors implementing apprenticeship and workforce development programs to collaborate and learn about innovative approaches to deliver successful apprenticeship programs; marketing strategies to reach potential employers and apprentices; and approaches to increase apprentice retention. Thanks to the generous support from the Joyce Foundation, registration is free of charge for all participants. We encourage college leaders to visit our apprenticeship website for more information about the conference and submit your registration here.

Dr. Rebecca S. Lake is the Dean for Workforce and Economic Development at Harper College. She can be reached at

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