4 Keys To Starting An Apprenticeship Program

By creating effective HVACR training programs, companies can strengthen their workforce.

By David Hogland
From the April 2023 Issue

Facility managers face an exorbitant amount of pressure today. Companies want to cut costs while skilled workers are becoming more expensive and harder to find. Tradespeople are aging, and the influx of new skilled workers is not keeping pace.

Facing these challenges does not involve a simple, turnkey solution. However, by seeking to understand the fundamental needs of associates and recognizing the potential of those already within our ranks, companies have an opportunity to develop from within, strengthening their workforce by providing a path for them to achieve more.

Apprenticeship Program
(Photo: Adobe Stock / auremar)


That is the approach ESFM took when our team launched an apprenticeship program last spring. The mindset was simple: there are already talented people within the organization; why not invest in their development so they can step into higher-paying positions and advance their careers while supporting our employee retention?

Our apprenticeship program offers associates an education and certification required of a HVACR technician, plumber, or electrician. The program covers the tuition of a four-year program and allows associates to study at their own pace, while offering them time to attend to their coursework on the clock.

Offering professional development to upskill promising employees is a way to take a proactive approach to labor challenges in FM. Here are four keys to consider in developing an apprenticeship program.

See It As An Investment

There is a financial investment in the employees participating in the program, but it pales in comparison to the cost of employee turnover.

Employees who undergo the program can continue earning money at their current job while being trained to earn a license in one of the trades. That brings the obvious benefit of helping their income potential rise. But there’s also the added benefit of inspiring and engaging the employee as they are given the confidence that their company recognizes their value and potential and invests in it.

So, for employers, another benefit is building loyalty in your workforce. By training your own talent you know that they will come out on the other side already acclimated and engaged to your corporate culture.

Do Your Homework

Not only is it important to comply with Department of Labor standards, but each state also has its own requirements. If your company operates in several states or nationwide, do your research upfront so you don’t make the mistake of assuming that if you implement a certificate or training program for an employee in Texas that it will fully support another in Missouri.

You don’t have to fully develop the resources on your own — you may be able to tap into a solid community college program, or another learning institution in the area. Also, there is a plethora of effective online options that make learning accessible to associates anywhere.

Pair Apprentices With An Experienced Mentor

An apprenticeship program is not all classroom learning. In fact, the most valuable lessons happen on the job and peer-to-peer.

When we accept an apprentice into our program, we also make sure to identify a mentor who will assist in the learning journey. The mentor and apprentice work hand-in-hand throughout the program to amplify the education component of the classroom setting with real-life experience. Apprentices get the benefit of actually undertaking the tasks for which they are being licensed, fully supervised, while mentors are able to share their knowledge. There’s also the added benefit for mentors of having a second set of hands to help with certain tasks when they’re working with an apprentice.

Every mentor was once an apprentice, so allowing them to give back to someone who is in a position they once were in is a way to bring the journey full circle and deepen the team component of the organization.

An important consideration to remember is that the licensing test will not be limited in scope to the workplace setting apprentices train in. Be sure apprentices are reminded to make the most of all learnings, including what’s being taught in their classes, because they will be thoroughly tested before they are licensed.

Benchmark And Motivate

Four years is a long time. The learning process involves 20-plus tests per year, where certifications are earned along the way.

A way to motivate apprentices forward is through pay increases and opportunities to move into higher level jobs as they become available. Where talent is a high commodity, there’s usually no shortage of such opportunities.

Still, for the investment to be realized, it’s critical to be mindful of burnout. Remain in regular communication with your apprentices and monitor their progress. The program curriculum will outline what students should accomplish year-to-year, so by keeping an eye on mentees’ achievements supervisors can step in and encourage apprentices when progress slows.

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It’s a good habit to routinely recognize apprentices’ achievements and remind them of not only what they are aiming to accomplish but the value they bring to the organization each day.

While mentors and supervisors play a critical role in the success of the program, so does the involvement of leadership. Leaders understand that people are what make a business succeed. Know that just like anybody else in the organization, these apprentices have personal lives, goals, families, responsibilities, challenges, and passions. Those who committed to the program may need to be reminded along the way just what they are working toward.

Apprenticeship ProgramHogland is the President of ESFM, the corporate integrated facilities management division of Compass Group USA.

Do you have a comment? Share your thoughts in the Comments section below, or send an e-mail to the Editor at jen@groupc.com.

Check out all the recent HVAC Factor columns from Facility Executive magazine.