Apprenticeship Expansion at Florida International University

The Department of Labor wants to expand apprenticeship programs between higher education institutions and key industries. So much, in fact, that it invested $183 million in grant funding to do so. 

Dr. Elizabeth M. Béjar, Senior Vice President for Academic and Student Affairs at Florida International University, and Dr. Bridgette Cram, Assistant Vice President for Academic and Student Affairs at Florida International University (FIU), joined the Enrollment Growth University podcast to talk about the win-win benefits of apprenticeships for both academia and employers.

What FIU Did With Its Part of $183 Million for Apprenticeships

Last year, the US Department of Labor announced grant funding to engage employers nationwide in creating apprenticeship opportunities across a wide range of occupations and industry sectors. The purpose of the grant program was to promote apprenticeships as a significant workforce solution in occupations and industry sectors with a focus on IT, including cybersecurity and artificial intelligence.

The goal of the apprenticeship is to form well-rounded learners with the related skills needed to work in the cybersecurity industry. Many sectors and many industries will need the skill sets of cybersecurity as technology changes the ways industry operates and talks to business and community. 

“So at FIU,” Elizabeth explained, “we developed the Cyber-Cap Program, which is a cybersecurity apprenticeship program, aimed at giving our students and learners necessary technical skills, on-the-job training, and overall preparation to obtain industry credentials.”

Cyber-Cap FIU’s ultimate goal is to train and develop 800 apprentices over a four-year period in critical cybersecurity skills.

According to the National Initiative for Cybersecurity Education, there are over 275,000 estimated cybersecurity openings, and the supply of workers is not high enough to meet that need.

“The way we designed the grant,” Elizabeth said, “the money will be used to develop and provide what’s known as RTI, related technical instruction, and to work with our industry partners to align the related technical instruction. 

FIU will also use the funds to work with employers to develop a mentorship program that supports apprentices during their training. The school will pair participating students with experienced mentors outside of their apprenticeship placement. Grant funds are also allocated for supporting the apprentices themselves and ensuring that they can be successful in this program. 

“We do recognize that if you are underemployed, there are some disadvantages to committing your time,” Elizabeth told us. “You may have to stop a part-time position to be able to do this re-skilling. So, there’s some funds available to support students as they re-enter the educational and learning environment of an apprenticeship as well as … providing transportation support and meal support.”

Can Apprenticeships Be a Long-Term Bridge Between Academia and Industry?

“It is imperative for us as higher education in the 21st century to ensure that we’re developing these opportunities for our students and also for learners in our community,” Bridgette said. “So, apprenticeships definitely fill a unique niche and can be used for specific job roles.”

At FIU, Bridgette and Elizabeth recognized the importance that this specific apprenticeship program can play in helping their community and local industry better prepare for the growing demand in cybersecurity. 

“We plan to use what we’ve learned to better understand how we can integrate more of these work, learn, earn experiences throughout our curriculum going forward,” Bridgette told us.

At FIU, many learners are already working, so the team looks for opportunities to align students’ apprenticeships with the skill sets they need to be successful once they have their degree. For students who may not have to work during school, co-ops or structured internships may provide better opportunities. 

“Then, of course, there’s the earning part,” Bridgette said.  “Because many of our students have to work already, finding opportunities for them to earn money while also going to class is very important so that they can continue supporting themselves and their families.”

Next-Steps Advice for Other Institutions Investigating Apprenticeship Programs

“Building an apprenticeship program if you don’t have one at your institution is definitely a daunting process,” Elizabeth acknowledged. 

If you want to do it at scale, it’s nearly impossible to go alone. FIU is working with partners throughout the South Florida region to serve its 800 apprentices. 

Also, institutional leaders need to understand who their partners are and what the relationship can be in order to make sure it’s a win-win scenario. That means that every partner needs to understand their capacity, their strengths, and their willingness to engage in new partnerships.

“It’s also really important to leverage either your local Department of Education, state Department of Education, or the federal government, depending on how the apprenticeships are registered in your state,” Bridgette told us.

You need to get their knowledge, understand their processes, and work with them to make sure that you’re meeting the needs of your area’s employers. These agencies can help you understand the nuts and bolts of developing this process along with learning the language needed to talk with faculty and industry partners about the importance of apprenticeships.

 

This post is based on a podcast interview with Dr. Elizabeth M. Béjar and Dr. Bridgette Cram from Florida International University. To hear this episode, and many more like it, you can subscribe to Enrollment Growth University.

If you don’t use iTunes, you can listen to every episode here.

Eric Olsen

Eric brings more than a decade of award-winning creative brand development, marketing analytics and higher education experience to Helix Education. Eric is a graduate of Bradley University and earned his MBA at Lewis University.