Creating Inclusive Virtual & Hybrid Apprenticeships

What Apprenti Learned During COVID-19

Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, virtual and hybrid work environments have become the norm in America and worldwide. Apprenticeship programs and apprenticeship intermediaries have had to find creative ways to promote success for their apprentices; they have needed to rethink how they provide high-quality classroom instruction and training while shifting to an online format.

computer with people at a deskCreating Inclusive Virtual & Hybrid Apprenticeships: What Apprenti Learned During COVID-19

In collaboration with Apprenti, we developed this guide to share lessons learned from the program’s shift to a virtual model. This guide provides a roadmap to help new and existing apprenticeship programs and intermediaries structure telework and hybrid learning environments to foster a diverse cohort of apprentices.

The experience of Apprenti, a technology apprenticeship intermediary, provides a key example of how apprenticeship programs can actively transform their business models to recruit and support apprentices with disabilities. Apprenti has demonstrated its commitment toward increasing access to gainful employment for job seekers with disabilities by establishing an Access Team. This Access Team works with employers and apprentices to enhance and scale-up inclusion and drive workplace success.

Lessons Learned

Apprenti bridges the tech talent and diversity gaps by building equitable access to careers in IT via apprenticeship. As an intermediary, Apprenti acts as a liaison by building connections with and among training providers, employers, and apprentices. Apprenti equips employers to hire and train apprentices, helping them become producers of hard-to-find talented workers. With an emphasis on training underrepresented minority groups, building an accessible pathway for apprentices with disabilities remained in alignment with Apprenti’s core mission. Apprenti’s newly established Access Team supports apprentices who may experience significant barriers to access employment and pathways to careers.

Before COVID-19, Apprenti worked with about a dozen training providers. Most of these training providers conducted in-person training sessions. At the time, these training sessions offered limited flexibility to expand learning outside the four walls of the classroom. In March 2020, the Apprenti team made a concerted effort to support their partners by electing to transition to an online training model as American businesses moved to remote-based work to protect their employees’ health. This major change carried challenges, such as translating curriculum materials to the online setting and honing best practices for virtual mentorship. However, the shift to remote-based training proved beneficial for Apprenti and its partners. The discussion below describes several key lessons learned, associated benefits, and approaches for handling significant challenges in the shift to online training sessions:

The Benefits

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They Can Create More Diverse and Inclusive Workplaces:
Some job seekers with disabilities may find it easier to participate in virtual programs. Removing demanding commutes and overstimulating office environments can mean those job seekers who could not previously participate in traditional on-site work can now access new opportunities to participate in the workforce and training. This change can lead to more diverse cohorts of talented apprentices. For instance, Apprenti connected with an apprentice who needed to work in a horizontal position during arthritis flares. Participating in a virtual apprenticeship program made it possible for this apprentice to address her access needs, while inclusively collaborating on team projects.


They Can Help Mitigate Risk:
With continued concerns about COVID-19 and its variants, virtual apprenticeship programs can enable at-risk population groups to continue to work from their homes, minimizing their risk of exposure to the disease. Employers and intermediaries may likewise find that virtual or hybrid training offers other advantages. Apprentices who contract a different communicable illness or experience a short-term work injury may still be able to participate in training sessions on a virtual basis. Virtual and hybrid training sessions will also promote continuity of apprenticeship programs during future health public health emergencies (short-term or long-term).

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They Provide More Flexibility for Apprentices:
Apprentices can benefit significantly from the flexibility of virtual programs. For example, an apprentice with anxiety contributed more effectively to their team after personalizing their home office environment. Also, some apprentices may feel greater comfort when using assistive technology at home because they can control more variables (e.g., workstation configurations, lighting, noise levels, etc.). This comfort can help apprentices improve their productivity and performance and enhance their learning. It can also ensure apprentices feel more confident in their roles.


They Provide More Flexibility for Employers:
Remote apprenticeship programs offer employers increased flexibility when onboarding cohorts. Historically, companies have faced major geographical constraints when seeking out pipelines for talented workers. Virtual apprenticeship programs can enable employers to address the tech skill shortage by filling high-demand roles with top candidates from across the country. Apprenti has helped employers unify apprentices from different states into a single training cohort and placed them at different branch locations.

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They Offer Opportunities to Tailor Learning Experiences:
Training sessions can tailor customized virtual lectures and training to support individual learning needs. When Apprenti’s training providers implemented inclusive changes, they produced a positive ripple effect for numerous apprentices. For example,  the widespread use of closed captioning and recording lectures enabled both apprentices who are deaf or hard-of-hearing and apprentices with learning disabilities to access course content–both during and after class.

small business

They Support Participation by Smaller Companies:
Previously, employers that worked with Apprenti needed to bring on large cohorts of apprentices to reduce costs of technical training. Yet, small businesses found it difficult to onboard a full cohort of 20 apprentices at one time. Remote-based technical training offers apprenticeship programs the affordances needed to build a cohort of apprentices from multiple employers; each training group can take on 1-3 apprentices, without placing an enormous cost barrier on companies.

What Apprenti Learned

  • Not Everyone Understands Accessibility Needs and Requirements: Training providers, apprenticeship intermediaries, and employers differ in their understanding of and commitment to fostering accessible work environments. To address this challenge, Apprenti founded the Access Team. They equip apprentices and partner organizations with the tools, mindsets, approaches, and processes to build inclusive learning spaces.
  • Online Platforms Can Reduce Variety in Teaching Styles: When the initial transition to virtual learning started, many employers and intermediaries felt concerned that virtual instruction would result in limited teaching methodology and scope. However, Apprenti found that their training providers could model differentiated instruction in the virtual world in a comparable manner to in-person training. Apprentices can learn core skills and concepts through lectures, hands-on demonstrations, independent study time, and other effective methodologies to cultivate student-centered learning environments.
  • Fewer Opportunities for Incidental Learning: On-the-job learning represents a crucial component of all apprenticeship programs. Many employers wondered if it would be possible for apprentices to receive sufficient training and meet benchmarks without the collaborative nature of a physical office. Apprenti has supported managers in establishing best practices for virtual training. Leveraging multiple communication formats and learning structures has helped keep virtual on-the-job learning effective and engaging for all stakeholders.
  • Collaboration is Harder to Achieve on Virtual Platforms: Employers shared concerns that apprentices might find it very challenging to collaborate with their cohort peers on virtual platforms. Apprenti’s training providers answered those concerns with resounding success. Their apprentices in virtual environments have continued to work dynamically on both group homework assignments and their capstone projects.


Tips for Creating Successful Virtual Programs

Review PIA’s New Resources: Learn more about PIA’s guidance on shifting to virtual apprenticeship structures in the following resources:

Put the Right Structures in Place: Leaders of apprenticeship programs should establish explicit telework policies and outline management strategies. Apprenti has helped support employers as they seek to implement more inclusive practices, and it has provided management training for employees with an interest in managing apprentices. Recently, Apprenti developed a human-centered interview rubric to help employers adopt and maintain inclusive hiring practices. This rubric supports efforts to standardize interview practices within an organization.

Educate Staff: All staff should learn how to promote accessible technology for workplaces and classrooms (virtual, in-person, and hybrid), support access to accommodations for people with disabilities, and adopt inclusive language. Integrating these practices into programs will enable all staff and apprentices to support their colleagues with disabilities and enhance performance and productivity. Educate staff by sharing resources and conducting team training sessions for each of these areas. Review the following recommended resources to start:

Use a Variety of Mentoring Touchpoints: Apprenticeship programs should create diverse opportunities for apprentices to meet their mentors in virtual settings. This means providing comparable supports for what would be available in a classroom setting and during in-person training. Managers may have to be more intentional about what mentoring looks like, so feel free to experiment. Consider meeting with an apprentice for 15 minutes each day as a check-in and integrating time for team-building into core schedules to build mentors’ rapport with apprentices. Share screens to walk through difficult problems together.

Share Tips with Apprentices: Working remotely may mean a novel experience for some apprentices, or perhaps they may seek new strategies to improve the structure of their remote space. Share tips on how to be an effective teleworker and communicate program leaders’ willingness to support workers as they shift to a new way of working.

Allow Apprentices to Record Lectures and Training: All people learn in different ways because of variations in thinking, information processing, and learning styles. Providing the option for apprentices to record virtual meetings can give them the opportunity to re-examine concepts and skills taught to them, allowing them to review subjects they may not have comprehended or refresh their memory about a topic or a request.

If your organization is interested in learning more about creating remote or hybrid programs that are inclusive, contact us.