Season 5 • Episode 4

The reality of today’s labor marketing indicates that there aren’t enough college graduates and experienced workers to meet market demands. Apprenticeships and working to steady the gap by incorporating hands-on learning with education and life experience. In today’s episode, Joshua Johnson from Jobs for the Future (JFF) share the seven components of Registered Apprenticeships, how to engage with your state apprenticeship system, what apprenticable occupations look like in fields that would surprise you, and the benefit this type of employment offers for employers and apprentices.


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About DE Talk

For DirectEmployers, it’s all about valuable connections and meaningful conversations. This monthly podcast features honest and open dialogue between powerhouse industry experts on a variety of HR topics ranging from OFCCP compliance advice to emerging recruitment marketing trends, diversity and inclusion initiatives, and insightful solutions that help infuse new life into your HR strategies.

Hosted by Candee Chambers, Executive Director of DirectEmployers Association.

Guest Host

Headshot of Mikey Meagher

​Mikey Meagher

Manager, Diversity, Equity, & Inclusion Strategies

Mikey Meagher is the Manager of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Strategies at DirectEmployers Association and is focused on fostering relationships with veteran and diversity organizations to promote workforce inclusivity. Mikey began her career recruiting within the IT industry, which made her transition to DirectEmployers partnership team a natural progression as relationship-building and strong communication are core components of both. Within her current role, Mikey works to facilitate conversations between Members and existing partners and provide outreach resources to both parties, as well as identify, develop, and promote new local and national level partnerships. Mikey holds a Bachelor of Science Degree in Criminology from University of Florida, a Master’s Degree in Organizational Leadership from Jacksonville University, and is a certified Windmills Trainer and Diversity, Equity & Inclusion professional.

Episode Guest

Joshua Johnson

Joshua Johnson

Director, Jobs for the Future (JFF)

Joshua Johnson is the director of Jobs for the Future’s National Innovation Hub for Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Accessibility in Registered Apprenticeship, which is operated by the organization’s Center for Apprenticeship & Work Based Learning. In that role, he leads efforts to advance diversity, equity, and inclusion in apprenticeship, with a specific focus on helping employers make commitments to building inclusive Registered Apprenticeship programs.

Before joining JFF, Joshua was the state director of apprenticeship in Wisconsin. In that role, he oversaw growth in all initiatives related to the creation of intentional career pathways for Wisconsin citizens. His passion for apprenticeship is rooted in its ability to eradicate poverty.

Episode Transcript

Candee Chambers (00:02):

Get ready. The DE Talk Podcast starts now, insightful conversations and dialogue, helping you put the human factor back in HR.

Mikey Meagher (00:14):

Welcome to the DE Podcast. In this episode, we’re delving into the world of apprenticeships, exploring their evolution and the many opportunities that they offer. We’re joined by Joshua Johnson from Jobs for the Future, a clear expert in his field. Today, Joshua is here to discuss the seven components of Registered Apprenticeships, how to engage with your state apprenticeship system, the significance of identifying occupations you are seeking to expand through Registered Apprenticeships, and the importance of national apprenticeship week for both employers and apprentices. So tune in as we unpack these essential topics and discover how apprenticeships can be a game changer for your organization.


Welcome, Josh.

Joshua Johnson (01:03):

Hey, how you doing, Mikey?

Mikey Meagher (01:05):

Doing well. I’m glad we were able to connect. I’m excited for this conversation.

Joshua Johnson (01:10):

I’ve been looking forward to this conversation all week. Anytime I get to talk about apprenticeship, it’s right in my wheelhouse.

Mikey Meagher (01:19):

I know. I know. I remember a little over a year ago, I think Mike Witt, he connected all of us, and I got to say that it was kind of my first introduction into apprenticeships. And between you and Jennifer, I am learning so much and definitely a whole other world that you knew it existed but didn’t really know all the components that went into it.

Joshua Johnson (01:44):

Yeah, definitely. Many times, a lot of times the conversations we have with folks, they hear the word apprenticeship and they’re like, “Oh, I know what that is.” And then we really start to break it down and they’re like, “Oh, I didn’t know it was that.”

Mikey Meagher (01:55):


Joshua Johnson (01:57):

It’s been a great opportunity and I’m super thankful to Jennifer Meyer here at JFF for making that connection with you and as well as Mike. It’s been a great year. It’s been some great conversation we had and I’m looking forward to the next year of engagement with DirectEmployers.

Mikey Meagher (02:14):

Yes, me too. And I know we have a lot cooking right now between our organizations. One of the things I love when we first connected, especially at DEAM this past April, was you and I are very similar track minds in the sense of we can think big pictures, big ideas, but breaking it down into those minute details and getting everybody to understand those pathways I guess in our brains is where I’m at right now with apprenticeships. So I’m going to let you take it away to sort us off with the seven components of Registered Apprenticeships and break it down from big picture into the little details as if we didn’t know what was going on.

Joshua Johnson (03:06):

Yeah, thank you. And that’s awesome. Yeah, and there’s seven components now. There used to be five and then they added two additional components. So I’ll just walk through them just real quickly. These have been put out by the US Department of Labor, the Office of Apprenticeship. They do some fantastic work there with their leadership, John Ladd, as well as the others part of the team at USDOL.


So we put together these seven components. So I’ll walk through them here. So the first component is probably, there’s a hard to say which one is the most important, but I always think about this as one of the most important because it’s industry led. So apprenticeship programs are industry vetted and approved to ensure alignment with industry standards, and the apprentices are trained for highly skilled and high demand occupations. So this isn’t a program that’s just put together by anybody and said, “Hey, this is an apprenticeship program.” It’s vetted by the industry that the program is in, which you know this as well as I do, Mikey, like knowing that something was vetted by the experts and it’s aligned with industry standards means that any individual getting engaged with it will have an opportunity to grow in that field, but then also if they have to pick up and have to go somewhere else, they could take those things they learned to the next company and there isn’t a drop-off. There’s that industry standard that was built in.


The second thing, which is most important is a paid job. Apprenticeships are jobs. So apprentices earn a progressive wage that increases based on their skills of productivity. And many times we think about, a lot of people compare apprenticeships to internships. No knock on internships. I don’t want to hear from the internships’ HR folks saying that we’re talking down on internships because internships are great as well. But apprenticeships, in my opinion, apprenticeships are… They’re an opportunity for an individual to know that a company is invested in them.


I always think about many apprenticeships that aren’t paid. I mean, internships, my apologies. I think about internships that aren’t paid. The person who’s serving the internship may not feel that investment in them by that company. But with an apprenticeship, you are an employee of that organization, that company, and you’re receiving a wage and a wage that’s comparable with others at the organization in those same roles. So when we think about that paid job component, it’s huge. I can’t express how important it is as we continue to talk about bringing down the age of apprentices, the age of engagement with apprenticeship.


The third component is it’s structured on the job learning and mentorship, which is the programs are providing structured on-the-job training to provide for a successful career, which includes instruction from experienced mentor. We think about the fact many of us out in this world and including myself, “Who I am?” A journey worker, construction craft, labor journey worker. So I went through an apprenticeship here in the state of Wisconsin and built highways in Wisconsin and in Illinois. I love working with my hands. In apprenticeship. Some of the best things about apprenticeship is that’s that structured on a job learning. So you’re doing, you’re learning by doing. Many people have said that it’s a really preferred way for a large majority of the population, learning by doing because you can remember those things as you’re doing them.


So in that learning by doing, you’re being guided by an experienced mentor, somebody who may have a love for the craft or may have a love for the occupation, but most importantly have the ability to sit back and guide you through the 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 steps, right? As you talk about Mikey, me and you are very high level, very 50,000 ft. That mentor, that mentor is at zero, right? 0, 1, 2, 3, maybe 4 ft. They’re right there. They’re walking you through what that process is and they’re helping you understand as well what your career can look like in that occupation.


The fourth component is a supplemental education, which routinely is called related instruction or related training instruction. Its apprentices are provided supplemental classroom education based on the employer’s unique training needs to ensure quality and success. This is one of my favorite ones because we always hear the narrative that apprenticeship is not college. Well, I’m here to say that much of the supplemental education that may be taught across the country is delivered at our technical and community colleges across the country. And if it’s not delivered at their campuses, it’s delivered by professors or instructors that are connected to these technical college systems, community college systems, and now even additional college systems such as HBCUs, historically backed community colleges, MSIs, minority serving institutions.


So it is college. There is college component to many apprenticeships across the country. But that supplemental education combined with the structured on job learning makes for a great opportunity for someone to learn about their career pathway. But it touches into both disciplines of learning. It’s that supplemental being in the classroom, listening, but you’re also learning in the classroom as well by doing, but then also that on the job where it’s as well as listening.


Diversity is one of, obviously, my favorite ones here as I’m working in our national innovation hub for DEIA in register apprenticeship. But thinking about programs are designed to reflect the communities in which they operate through strong non-discrimination, anti harassment, and recruitment practices to ensure access, equity, inclusion. Diversity is one of those things that many people place what they feel like diversity means and that’s what they stick to. But when we think about diversity, it’s across the board. You think about diversity and apprenticeship, it’s not just diversity as we think about racial diversity. It’s not even diversity as we think about gender diversity. Diversity is in every aspect of life. You’re bringing in individuals into your organization, whether they’re young, whether they’re more senior workers or mature workers in the workforce, whether they’re technically inclined or whether they’re not technically inclined.


Diversity is thinking about how do you bring in the best individuals into your organization that will not only reflect the community in which that company operates, but will also give that company the ability to compete at a local level, a national level, and potentially a global level by bringing in individuals that reflect the community.


The next one is quality and safety. So apprentices are afforded worker protections while receiving that rigorous training to equip them with the skills they need to succeed along with the proper training and supervision they need to be safe.


We don’t want to think about apprenticeships… I think about back in the day, we used to see pictures of iron workers, I don’t know, back in ’50s or ’60s, it may even been before then, and they’re sitting on a beam that’s on top of a building that is being lifted by a crane, right? Long gone are those days. Apprenticeships are very safe. There’s rigorous training, rigorous safety training tied to every apprenticeship that exists that really makes sure that individuals are above all safe and that when they come to work, they go home. So that doesn’t matter if you’re in a construction, advanced manufacturing, if you’re in healthcare, if you’re in transportation. No matter where it is, the opportunity to make sure you are equipped with the skills you need to be safe is never lost in apprenticeship programs.


And then lastly, I keep saying these are my favorite ones, but this is probably one of my favorite ones as well. There’s a credential, right? I walk around and I still have my credential, my journey workers’ credential that says I am skilled as a construction craft laborer. I can walk onto any job site in this country at now at the age 46, at the age 56, at the age 66 if I really wanted to work. And I would gain top pay on that job because I have the credential that says I completed a Registered Apprenticeship program in the state of Wisconsin. That credential is portable and it’s nationally recognized across the country within that industry. So those are the seven components, right? Those five, when they added the additional two, they really made it a rounded out conversation for what register apprenticeship is all about.

Mikey Meagher (11:59):

And to circle back real quick to the third component, just because I want to be clear for maybe those employers or listeners that, like I said in the beginning, aren’t well versed in the apprenticeship space, why is it that more employers, or I guess they’re more likely to have internships and not apprenticeships? Is it because they can, does it come down to the dollar, like they can do unpaid internships?

Joshua Johnson (12:31):

There’s a couple different things there, right? How long do we have? We got four or five hours to have this conversation today? So I’ll hit a few. But there’s varying factors, right? Number one, I believe… And before I even say this, I guess I should establish my credibility and even being able to have this conversation for what I think employers need or engagement. So as the former state director of the Wisconsin Apprenticeship System, we worked closely with employers in integrating register apprenticeship programs into their organizations if they already did not have, whether that was through youth apprenticeship, whether that was connecting those employers to the certified pre-apprenticeship pipeline that we have here in Wisconsin all the way up to building a Registered Apprenticeship program from the ground up.


So what I noticed and what I’ve seen around is, number one, many times employers just they don’t know how to access apprenticeship. They don’t know what that looks like. They hear this word and they automatically tie it to government. And many times people think of government, they think of rigorous, they think of structure, they think of regulation. But in the apprenticeship system, while there are regulations, it’s not rigorous and it’s not laborious, right? There is a structure, but the structure is in place to protect the employer as well as the apprentice. So many times, a lot of employers just don’t know what apprenticeship offers or what apprenticeship looks like. I don’t always like to lean in and say, “Well, employers just aren’t doing it because they don’t want to pay.” I think they really just don’t know. The second part of it is many times employers think the occupations that they have at their company are not apprenticeable occupations. And yes, apprenticeable is a word in the apprenticeship world.


As you think about what an apprenticeable occupation is, many times they don’t think that they have them. And that’s where I challenge employers to say, “Well, wait a minute, what are you doing?” And when they tell me, I say, “Okay, here’s how it lines up and here’s what apprenticeable occupation matches up to that or crosswalks over to that.” So those two things, not knowing about the apprenticeship system, but then also not knowing or not understanding where the connection is for their occupations, that connect to the register apprenticeship system.


I think if those two barriers could be broken down, those are probably two of the biggest barriers that I’ve seen, if those could be explained more and broken down into those bite-sized pieces, I think we would have more employers who are willing to engage and understand that they’re making an investment in their workforce. Because you think about an internship, like I said, if I think back to if I was in college and I got offered an internship at this company and I went there and I was like, “Oh, this is nice,” but then another company came along and said, “Hey, we have an internship over here and you’re going to be doing this,” I can easily walk away and say, “You know what? I have no investment with that company so I can easily walk away and go to this other company.”


With an apprenticeship, it’s going to be very hard to lure you away because not only do you know what your pay is going to be, you also know what you’re going to be learning, the competencies that you’ll be learning while you’re in that apprenticeship program. So it’d be great if we could break those barriers down to help employers understand how simplistic the system is, although there is regulation and structure as part of it.

Mikey Meagher (16:03):

Yeah. And I think it’s always… Especially in this space in DEIA or even talking with apprenticeships, we always talk about best practices that employers should be implementing, which I think we could go on all day about, but more so what are common pitfalls, I guess, that organizations should be aware of when implementing these seven components?

Joshua Johnson (16:33):

I would say the number one conversation, and we’ve done some stuff here at JFF in our National Innovation Hub for DEI in Registered Apprenticeship, we released a program design framework that outlines 10 elements to successful apprenticeship programs. And in there, one of the biggest ones I think is organizational readiness. And as we think about a pitfall, I believe many times organizations just aren’t ready to have an apprenticeship program. Now, let me explain what that means because a lot of people may be listening and they’ll say, “Well, wait a minute. If you’re talking about how great apprenticeship programs are, then that means any employer should just be willing to step up and say, ‘Let’s do this apprenticeship program’.” Rightfully so. And we will agree to disagree on that point. But I will point out that as an organization, being ready to do an apprenticeship is much different than an organization doing an apprenticeship.


When you think about the things needed, we talked about number one, within the seven components we talked about mentorship. Many employers, they’ll say, “Hey, I’ve had so-and-so who’s been on this job for 50 years? They will be the best mentor I can find on this job. So everybody I bring in, I’m going to send them through there as a mentor.” Well, Mikey, I’m here to tell you I believe that I’m very skilled and very knowledgeable in many things, but a mentor, I am not, when it comes to working with my kids. I’ve built highways. I could do a project around the house where I’m rebuilding our deck or where I’m fixing something on the roof. And I will tell you, I don’t have the patience to sit there and explain it to them numerous times, and I take the stuff from them and say, “Okay, just watch me do it.” Right? I’m not a great mentor for that, and I understand that.


Many times employers, when they’re thinking about identifying a mentor, they identify the mentor who are just like me, who have to get the job done, who’ve been doing something for so long that they don’t have that ability to take a step back and really teach and walk you through it and have the patience. So for me, that’s one of the biggest pitfalls I think, is employers, they’re not ready. They’re not ready to have that program. They don’t have the mentors in place. They don’t have a structure. Apprenticeship has some structure to it, which says, “These are the competencies you’re going to be learning.” And if you don’t have that structure in place and have those mentors who can help with that structure, then you’ll leave an apprentice to really feeling insecure, right?


Think about the average age of apprenticeships, right around 30, somebody who’s been through the workforce, who’s tried odd jobs, and they finally say, “I want to get into this career path.” But when you’re getting into a career path and starting something new, there’s a lot of uncertainty, a lot of insecurity in that. So you need to have that structure in place to make that apprentice feel safe and feel like they’re in an environment that’s going to help them to grow.


I think one of the other ones, this is selfishly now one of the ones that I’ve seen, but I think many times employers, when they’re not ready for an apprenticeship program, it really falls down to the workforce that they have access to. Many employers I’ve had conversations with, they will build an apprenticeship program, but the apprenticeship program won’t be for their incumbent workers or it won’t be designed for their incumbent workers to access it. Or their entry level workers, right? Many times we know this. In many companies, the entry level workers are some of your most diverse workers in your organization, but many times employers don’t build apprenticeship programs or build career pathways tied to apprenticeship programs that include those entry level workers or your incumbent workers.


So for a company, that means that you’re bringing in individuals maybe from the outside to fill those roles, which would be a pitfall for those individuals internally who may see an opportunity to grow with that company. Now, those individuals are saying, “If they’re bringing in people from the outside to take these jobs, I have no future here. I’m going to go find another organization to work for where I have a future.” And I think we’re seeing that a lot, Mikey. Nowadays, this is not the generation of when we were coming up and we stuck at an employer for 40 years and we just stuck it out no matter what. This generation now, my kids, my oldest is 24, look two to three years, and that’s max. They’re out of there. If they don’t see any opportunity to grow, they’re out of there.


So many times employers are not recognizing that and creating opportunities for individuals to grow. And that’s where apprenticeship gives you the opportunity to bring somebody in that has no skill, but just has a want to, and the ability and to give them the skill they need so when they walk out or when they finish that apprenticeship program and walk out onto the floor or wherever it is onto a job site as a journey worker, they’re highly skilled in that occupation.

Mikey Meagher (21:25):

Yes. That’s a good point that I think when we first talked about this too, a lot of times you’re looking at an apprenticeship program from the outside in and not inside out where it’s, “Where can you grow this?” You might already have something established within your organization where that could be your best building block instead of trying to go outside and now you’ve got great employees that are potentially leaving now because they see nowhere to go. So you make a good point there, because that’s something I wouldn’t have necessarily thought of right away.

Joshua Johnson (22:04):

Yeah, we see it a lot. I mean, we see that it’s the nature of the workforce now. It’s the, “What have you done for me?” recently, workforce, right? Which means, as an organization, what are you doing to engage those individuals. Use apprenticeship to engage them, right? Many times people come into an apprenticeship program. We just had this success story of an organization, Hikma Pharmaceuticals, right? They just shared a success story with us about they hired their first apprentice, a 57-year-old African-American male. They hired him into an HVAC technician role within advanced manufacturing. Mikey, this gentleman started with Hikma on a contract job, basically a temp job as a housekeeper.

Mikey Meagher (22:54):


Joshua Johnson (22:54):

So you think about the opportunity that exists for employers with individuals who they can engage with that are in their purview, that are right there in their buildings. How do you now build a way to build somebody who comes in and they can say, “I can see myself doing that”?


It’s one of the things I challenge many employers on in this role. When they talk about being ready to do apprenticeship, I say, “Let me see what your board of directors look like. Let me see what your C-suite looks like. Show me the website. Show me the pictures of those folks.” And they look at me and they wonder like, “Well, why do you need to see the pictures?” Because if I see all white men up there, how in the world can you build a program or how in the world can you say that we are going to build something that is inclusive of everybody? What people see when they walk through your door or when they look on your website, they need to see themselves with an opportunity to grow within that company. That’s how you keep people around. That’s the new way to keep people around for five, 10 years. That’s the way to help people move up. And you can use Registered Apprenticeship to do that.

Mikey Meagher (24:01):

Yeah. I think that’s a really good segue into our next point. For businesses who are interested in apprenticeship programs and different steps they should take, and I know we have talked about engagement with state apprenticeship systems, so if we could move into that and talk about what’s the best way for these businesses to engage with their state in order to gain the support.

Joshua Johnson (24:33):

Yeah, this is a great question, Mikey. And this is a question that for years I’ve talked about whether it was in this role, whether it was in my role as a state director in Wisconsin, whether it was in my role as the vice president of our National Organization of State and Territorial Apprenticeship Directors. Understanding what that process looks like is key, but it’s not hard. And I think that’s the thing that many employers have found, is they feel like it’s really hard to identify who those individuals are they need to engage with within their state.


This is the former state director in me, but I always direct people to identify who is the state apprenticeship system in your state. We have two different systems under the national system. There is the Office of Apprenticeship System, which are called OA States. So those Office of Apprenticeship states, they have state directors, they have field staff. Their process is consistent across all of the OA states. And then we have the SAA states. So I was an SAA state director, which is a State Approving Agency, which means everything we follow the national system, there’s consistency with the regulations of the national system. But in our state, we did things a little bit different. We are one of the states that required that you pay your apprentice the same wage while they’re at school, that’s supplemental education, as you pay them when they’re on the job.


So there’s these nuances in some of the SAA states that are just a little bit different, and that’s typically from legislation, that could just be from design. But identify in your state who that leader is for apprenticeship. Once you identify who that is, reach directly out to them and let them know you’re interested in building a Registered Apprenticeship program. In fact, let them know you’re interested in building an equitable Registered Apprenticeship program. And they can then connect you to the individuals or those field staff who can then set up meetings with you to have conversations about what it looks like to build an apprenticeship program in the state. But most importantly, they’re going to ask you what are your workforce needs.


And then as an employer it’s really important to know what are your workforce needs, because apprenticeship is a great opportunity. It’s a great tool for an organization to become an organization that supports the growth of its employees or future employees. But knowing what your workforce needs are is huge, right? Standing and literally looking across your workforce and identifying what you need that will help you to compete at a maximum level locally, nationally, or globally, identifying what those needs are really help when you engage with the state apprenticeship system or with the individuals in your state in the apprenticeship system as you try to build equitable registered apprenticeship programs.

Mikey Meagher (27:31):

And can you share, or do you personally have any success stories or examples of organizations that have done that or you’ve been a part of that have effectively engage with the state?

Joshua Johnson (27:43):

Yeah, I mean, there’s hundreds. I mean, if you think about all the employers that have registered apprenticeship programs, all of them have successfully engaged with the state apprenticeship system in some way, shape or form. Whether it was the federal office of apprenticeship system or the state SAA system, hundreds, thousands of employers have engaged in those conversations. Many times what happens, I think this is just Joshua Johnson’s opinion, many times employers engage and there’s some work involved with it. I just named identifying what your workforce needs are and identifying a point person with your organization that’s going to help to drive this apprenticeship conversation forward. Many times after those meetings, it comes back into the organization. And the organization, it gets lost in legal, right? Many times it gets, “Oh, this is a contract. This is a legally binding contract. That means we have to do this, and that means we have to do that.”


And for me, I feel like, once again Joshua Johnson’s opinion, employers that may get stuck and not move forward are those that don’t reach back out to ask questions. So as an employee, if you start to talk about apprenticeship, no one’s expecting you to be an expert in apprenticeship, but when you walk in and start asking questions, as you take it back to your organization to see where there’s opportunity for engagement or where you see that this could be a great opportunity to build a very, very potent and high-powered career pathways in your organization, don’t be afraid to engage and ask those questions back of the connection that you had at that apprenticeship system in that state.

Mikey Meagher (29:31):

Yeah, that’s a great point too, because I think in talking, that just brings up the support and resources that employers can expect. So it’s kind of one of those things if you don’t know what you don’t know, but go out there and ask those questions and be proactive in trying to get all of that set up.

Joshua Johnson (29:56):

Yeah, it’s not hard. It really is not hard. I think it’s just having the conversations, have those conversations, ask those questions. And if there’re CEOs listening to this or founders or owners of business, take a look in the mirror and determine what it is that you need and then talk to somebody about how apprenticeship can help you to fulfill those goals, how they can help you to fill those gaps that you may have.

Mikey Meagher (30:23):

Yeah. I mean, it’s conversations that are probably happening on a daily basis anyhow, or part of your annual strategic plans, but it’s just not being spun in a way of apprenticeships. I mean, so the conversation is people probably don’t even know that they’re having the conversation already, but because it may seem like a huge undertaking, it’s kind of one of those things you just close your eyes, if you don’t see it, it’s not there. So moving in that way.

Joshua Johnson (30:58):

Yeah, it’s like when our kids are little and they cover their eyes or they close their eyes and they think they’re invisible and they wake up. Or they open their eyes and we’re laughing at them and they’re none the wiser, right?

Mikey Meagher (31:07):


Joshua Johnson (31:08):

And they’re thinking that we didn’t see them and we’re like, “Yeah, you’ve been here the whole time.” But I’ll take it one step further, Mikey, and say not only are the conversations happening, employers are doing apprenticeship programs already. They just have not put the title of a registered apprenticeship program on them. And what I mean by that is most companies most successful and even some unsuccessful companies with the work they’re doing, they have some type of training.


Registered Apprenticeship is just a structured training model that allows for whoever you engage with to have the security and knowing they’re going to receive these competencies, they’re going to be safe, they’re going to learn, and they’re going to have the ability to learn on the job and in the classroom, they know they’re going to get these mentoring, they know that it’s paid. They know what their payment is. They know what their pay will be at every step of the way. They know that it’s been vetted. So now they know if they work at company A and for some reason they have to leave and they have to go to company B doing the same apprenticeship, that it’s transferable because they’re alignment. And most importantly, they know that they’re earning a credential. And in this world, that credential means everything because no one could take that credential away from you.


So as an employer that’s listening to this, if you already have some type of training program, reach out to us. Let’s talk about how we could turn into an equitable register apprenticeship program with ease without having to change many things that you already have, but adding a benefit for those that you want to bring through that program.

Mikey Meagher (32:40):

Yes, exactly. And like I said before, you and Jennifer are so knowledgeable on that and the ease in which you really can do that. A lot of companies probably have a succession plan within their departments, and that’s training, that’s mentorship. So figure out a way that you can make that part of an apprenticeship program internally. I think you guys are brilliant in a way that that’s something that’s possible. And just instead of recreating an entire wheel, use the parts you already have.

Joshua Johnson (33:22):

Yeah, agreed. I’ll put this cherry on top because this is a conversation I had a lot. The government don’t want to be all up in your business, right? We heard that a lot, right? I heard that a lot here in Wisconsin from employers who are like, “I don’t want the government in my business,” right? It’s like, “Look, we got other things to do than be coming in and getting all up in your business.” The government just facilitates and has the regulations around what the structured apprenticeship outline looks like. They don’t have time to come in and sit whether they’re state or federal government, and sit in there and go through everything you’re done, everything you’re doing, and pick your company apart and try to find a way to get you in any type of trouble. That’s not what it’s about.


The government is involved to provide that structure, to provide that regulation, to make sure, as I said, those seven components are met with the Registered Apprenticeship program. So don’t be afraid and don’t think engaged in the Registered Apprenticeship means that all of a sudden you’ve given the government this a one-way ticket to come into your organization and to shut you down or to find something you’re doing wrong. That’s just not the case. And you’re hearing it from somebody who ran a state agency and apprenticeship. That’s just not the case.

Mikey Meagher (34:33):

Yeah. And that’s a good point to mention. I do want to move into… Just for the sake of time because I know maybe there’s a lot of employers out there that don’t know National Apprenticeship Week is happening, especially as this podcast is being released at National Apprenticeship Week, can you walk through the importance of that for both employees and apprentices? What’s the benefits that they can get out of this from both sides?

Joshua Johnson (35:09):

Yeah. Well, Mikey, you’re hitting all on all my cylinders today, so this is great, right?

Mikey Meagher (35:14):

Yes. That’s why we work well.

Joshua Johnson (35:18):

You’re a great study in this to know the questions and what to reach out and get me to talk about here because National Apprenticeship Week, let me tell you, that’s like my Christmas, and I’ve said that numerous times. As we get older, Mikey, our kids get us socks. They might even get us a T-shirt here or there, right?

Mikey Meagher (35:34):


Joshua Johnson (35:35):

So at Christmas time, I’m the one spending all the money. And National Apprenticeship Week is like I get to open up all the gifts under there because I get to see the National Apprenticeship System celebrated for one full week and sometimes before and after that week for all the great things that it’s about.


I’m a product of the National Apprenticeship System, and I firmly believe that apprenticeship is one of, if not the best workforce tool available to eradicate poverty in this country. So anytime that we see an opportunity to shine a light on the great work that’s being done, I just get really excited about it. And this is the ninth year of National Apprenticeship Week, or NAW as people call it. And the theme this year is Registered Apprenticeship: Super Highway to Good Jobs, and that’s to reflect the prominence that Registered Apprenticeship has received as a proven and industry driven training model that expedites the pathway into good jobs and improves diversity, equity, inclusion and accessibility in workplace.


And as I said, it’s the ninth year, right? So National Apprenticeship Week is a nationwide celebration where employers, industry associations, labor organizations, community-based organizations, workforce partners, education providers and government leaders host events to showcase the successes and value of register partnership. We know that apprenticeships are so instrumental in rebuilding our economy and advancing racial and gender equity, as well as building a pipeline to good quality jobs and supporting those underserved and disenfranchised communities.


So this week, I mean, wherever you’re listening to that in this week, if you are anywhere local in your area, go and look. You can type in under Google, National Apprenticeship Week 2023, it’ll take you to It’ll tell you of the events that are in your area. Most, if not all, events are open to the public. They’re free. I used to love doing things here in Wisconsin where on the construction employers, the construction employers would open their joint apprenticeship training centers and they’d open them for people to come in and tour and see what the training looks like.


You have many other areas. You have healthcare who are opening their doors and saying, “Come in and see what a career in healthcare looks like.” IT is doing it. Cybersecurity, manufacturing. As we think about across the board, the industries that have been engaged in apprenticeship, and those are just a handful of them. But this is a great week. And I will say USDOL has really hit it out the park this year coming up with the theme, and then each day has a theme tied to it. So we’re really excited here at JFF as well. We’ll be engaged in numerous activities across the country. I myself will be traveling and a keynote speaker in Wichita, Kansas for the Kansas State Apprenticeship Office. There’ll be a few other sessions, some virtual sessions going on. So if you visit, you can also find that information for what we’re engaged in. Or on social, hit us up on social media and you’ll see some of those events as well.

Mikey Meagher (38:47):

Awesome. We’ll be sure to include that with the distribution of the podcast as well. I’m just curious because I didn’t realize, I guess in terms of there being a National Apprenticeship Week with it being so new with this being the ninth, I believe you said, where did that stem from? How did that become National Apprenticeship Week?

Joshua Johnson (39:16):

I don’t know exactly where it 100% came from or the idea was born, but I know it used to be… I could tell you what it was when I first started engaging with National Apprenticeship Week. It used to be this highlighting of like, “Hey, these are the things that are happening in the country around apprenticeship and let’s highlight and put some good things around apprenticeship during…” I want to say that was towards the end of the Obama administration where there was starting to be a large infusion of federal funding into the states around Registered Apprenticeship. There was an opportunity to really highlight what apprenticeship is, and it just took off from there. I’ll be really honest and say when I was a state director in Wisconsin, and even before that, when I was the section chief, I was always in competition with the rest of the country, Mikey, I’m going to be honest with you. I wanted to be in the top five for how many events I had.

Mikey Meagher (40:17):

I believe it.

Joshua Johnson (40:20):

And to this day, I never got to number one. I was close. I think I was number two one year. Somebody beat me out. But it’s an opportunity as a state to also engage your system and help them tell the story about how good apprenticeship is in your state. And you need that, right? You need that to continue to drive competition across the country, but you also need that. We think about many of the folks who are coming back from the military, folks who are graduating from college and maybe want to change a career. Folks who are moving because their parents are getting older and they have to go and take care of their parents.


As states, how are you attracting new talent into your state? And utilizing your register apprenticeship system is one way to attract that talent into your state. So that’s what I used it as, as an opportunity to highlight the great work we were doing in Wisconsin, to highlight the great employers, the great sponsors that I had in Wisconsin. But to know exactly where it was born from, honestly, I don’t know the date, time and moment or what conversation that may have been written on a napkin that launched National Apprenticeship Week, but I know that it has continued to grow and evolve. I don’t even know how many events they have planned this year. I haven’t even seen yet. Next week I’ll be starting to review and see, because that’s my jam, right? I love to look and see all the celebrations. But it’s insane how many events have gone on across the country over the past nine years.

Mikey Meagher (41:48):

Are these events that employers are involved in or can get involved in?

Joshua Johnson (41:53):

They sure can. Employers actually… So many times, what we do is I am speaking with my former state director head on. We leaned on employers to hold those events, whatever type of event it was. Maybe sometimes it’s an apprenticeship graduation, maybe it’s an apprenticeship orientation, maybe it’s a tour of your facility. Maybe it’s a bill being passed or a bill being created that’s going to go into legislation. Maybe it’s a groundbreaking for a new wing onto a technical college that’s going to be providing the related instruction. There’s so many different ways to engage. And even as employers that may be listening to this, you can find events that are going on in your area and attend those events. If you’re an employer listening right now and you’re interested in becoming a Registered Apprenticeship sponsor, find those events and just talk to people in your industry and say, “What does it take to do this? What are the steps?” And you never know. In those events, you may even run into the people who run the state apprenticeship system in that state, whether it’s a federal or a state governed system.

Mikey Meagher (43:00):

Awesome. And to close out this wonderful conversation, and I feel like we could totally have a part two of this, I feel like you and I could probably talk all today, what’s one thing you want to leave us with or employers with regarding apprenticeships that maybe we haven’t really covered yet?

Joshua Johnson (43:24):

Ooh, yeah, you’re right. We could talk all day, Mikey, because we both have a passion for seeing this work go farther and farther. And I love talking to you about it because I see your eyes light up like, “Oh my God, this is so fantastic for DirectEmployers.” And we are looking forward to continued engagement with DirectEmployers over the next year. We’re looking for some great engagement. And for the employers that may be listening from DirectEmployers, we can’t wait to engage with you.


But if there was one thing I was to leave, is, as an employer, I said this earlier in the podcast, I want you to look out over your workforce and I want you to think about what would it take for you to take that next step, whether it’s to becoming the best at what you’re doing locally, whether it’s to compete nationally or whether it’s to compete globally. Look across your organization, determine what that is, and then decide, “Will an apprenticeship help me to achieve those goals?” And if the answer is yes, if the answer is, “I don’t know,” I want you to reach out to the respective agency in your state to begin a conversation.


When I say that apprenticeship is the workforce tool that can eradicate poverty, I truly mean it. You have the ability to bring people into your organization with little to no skill, and when they walk out of your organization, to be highly skilled in an occupation. Not only highly skilled in occupation, but you’ve now put them on a career pathway to grow within your organization. And when you do that for diverse, underrepresented disenfranchised populations, you’ve now changed the culture at your organization. When we think about changing the culture at your organization, that first question I asked you, “What will it take to compete locally, nationally, or globally?”, the number one thing that it’s going to take is to have a culture that welcomes everyone in your doors and shows everyone what it looks like to grow within that organization.


Registered Apprenticeship system can help you do that. Registered Apprenticeship system can not only help you do it, it can help you be successful at now attracting that talent into your door, making you into an organization that is focused on development. So if anything I was to leave with, I’ll leave you with two of my taglines, Mikey. These are my famous taglines. They’re not trademarked, but that’s okay, but they’re two of my famous taglines. Number one is, apprenticeship is for everyone. And I truly mean that, and I truly believe that. But the last one is a shout-out and an ode to my predecessor, the state director here in Wisconsin, Karen Morgan, who I love affectionately. She’s fantastic. But this is a saying she taught me that I continue to live my life with. “There are good ships and wood ships and ships that sail the sea, but the best ships are apprenticeships. And may they always be.”

Mikey Meagher (46:31):

I love that. That is a great takeaway. If there’s anything to take away from this, that’s what I’m walking away with. I love that.

Joshua Johnson (46:40):

You’ll be saying that now whenever you walk around.

Mikey Meagher (46:44):

I sure will. I’ll close my eyes tonight and I’ll hear that. Well, Josh, thank you so much for joining us today. And I know we have some exciting things with you and Jennifer and JFF coming up with DirectEmployers. Especially for those who enjoyed the conversation today, definitely we’ll get to see JFF at DEAM this year. It’s been an enlightening discussion and really hope our listeners have gained a deeper understanding of how apprenticeships can be a game changer for businesses. Again, we appreciate your time. So informative. Always love talking to you. And I look forward to what we’re going to do next.

Joshua Johnson (47:27):

Thank you. And thank you for having me. Thank you for inviting JFF and our National Innovation Hub for DEIA in Registered Apprenticeship to be a part of this conversation today. It’s been fantastic. And I do, I truly look forward to JFF’s partnership and work with DirectEmployers in years to come, not only just a year. In years to come. And I can’t wait to be at DEAM this year and do our presentation as well. Thank you so much, Mikey.

Mikey Meagher (47:55):

Thank you. I’m excited as well. We’ll see you then.

Candee Chambers (47:58):

Thank you for tuning in for another episode of the DE Talk Podcast. Stay connected with DirectEmployers on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn and subscribe to our emails by visiting to receive notifications of new episodes each month.

Candee Chambers
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