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$4.6 Million Award Powers New Apprenticeship Pathways


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​​​When it comes to solving the Inland Empire's industrial skills gap, talk is cheap - and proficiency is priceless. Thanks to a nearly $5 million grant from the U.S. Department of Labor, the Riverside Community College District (RCCD) is putting the money where its mouth is. 

The game-changing grant supports 20 new apprenticeship pathways for RCCD students through the LAUNCH Apprenticeship Network and a new Registered Apprenticeship Hub. The Inland-based Hub's primary goal is to easily connect students and employers with available apprenticeship programs and resources throughout the region. 

“The idea of the Hub grant is that we're creating a resource for all these programs in a given geography,” explains Charles Henkels, LAUNCH Administrator and Director of Regional Apprenticeship and Work-Based Learning at RCCD. The $4,697,637 award will also provide the opportunity to expand existing apprenticeship pathways and develop additional pre-apprenticeship programming for K-12 students. 

“The Hub gives all of these programs a big network,” adds Henkels. “It ties in all of our community colleges, our university partners, and it's starting to tie in all of our K through 12 partners, which is 56 districts in our region alone.”

The windfall will also support efforts to expand apprenticeship personnel, work with employers who currently manage and promote apprenticeship opportunities and serve historically underrepresented students within the apprenticeship system. Henkels expects the funding to have a seismic impact on apprenticeship opportunities within higher education.  

“All of [our] partners can contribute to apprenticeship and have a resource that they can go to so they can come to us when they need a new program registered,” reasons the director.

According to the California Apprenticeship Registration Dashboard, there are currently 6,399 active apprenticeships in Riverside County. However, only about 2,200 of these apprentices are between the ages of 16 and 24, while about 4,000 are ages 25 to 54. 

Henkels notes that apprenticeship positions are incredibly impactful for high school graduates, as they provide the foundational skills in a desired career field, along with an opportunity to pay for their college education. Thanks to the grant from the Department of Labor, new LAUNCH initiatives are paving the way to usher more high school students into these valuable pathways.  

With the advent of the Apprenticeship Hub, students can access a variety of career pathways in trades like cybersecurity, healthcare, early childhood education, automotive, manufacturing and industrial technologies. Currently, the LAUNCH Apprenticeship Network serves about 1,300 people through various pathways and training programs. 

“What we're finding is that apprenticeships would really help our high school grads if they had an option to go straight into an apprenticeship program after high school,” explains the LAUNCH administrator. “They can earn a salary, remain debt free throughout their education, and get the industry experience they're aiming at.

“We're also spending a lot of energy in youth pathways and youth apprenticeship areas.” 

Riverside City College student Stephanie Gutierrez learned about the LAUNCH Apprenticeship Network through one of her professors at the college. As an automotive student, Gutierrez faced a competitive, male-dominated industry in which apprenticeship opportunities seemed few and far between. 

“I didn't know what an apprenticeship was,” admits Gutierrez. “I didn't know what to expect.” 

After completing the initial placement process, Gutierrez learned the ropes, building experience in a quick-service garage for three months before moving into an apprenticeship position at an Audi dealership. The rest, says the go-getting gearhead, was a mix of passion and perseverance.

“It's honestly so hard being in a technical field and trying to go into it if you have no experience,” explains Gutierrez. “Not too many places want to give young people chances, especially in the automotive field.

“[LAUNCH] actually walked me through the steps of the interview, what my resume should consist of, and what employers want to see…That was so helpful!” 

Not only are students like Gutierrez gaining essential real-world experience, they're connecting with - and learning from - professionals in their field. Meanwhile, the LAUNCH Apprenticeship Network continues to make apprenticeship opportunities available in other high-demand industries. And thanks to the addition of the new Apprenticeship Hub, these opportunities are only growing. 

“All of these new programs are a result of community colleges making these investments and creating these new programs,” says Henkels. 

Adds Gutierrez: “I love what I do, I love where I work, and I love the people who I work with. It's just been such an easy transition.

“It's been an amazing experience.” 

Visit www.launchapprenticeship.org to learn more about the LAUNCH Apprenticeship Network.

Published by External Relations & Strategic Communications