This brief investigates South Carolina’s apprenticeship expansion initiative to explore potential trade-offs between equity and expansion. In 2007, the state launched Apprenticeship Carolina, a major effort to expand apprenticeship that included tax incentives, marketing apprenticeship to employers, and technical assistance for apprentice sponsors.

Apprenticeship expansion in South Carolina was promoted by the state Chamber of Commerce through a widely circulated white paper, advocacy within the state’s technical college system, and promotion with other state partners (Hays 2003; Stieritz 2009).

In 2007, these efforts resulted in the state legislature appropriating $1 million a year to fund the initiative’s small staff. The legislature also approved an employer tax credit worth $1,000 per apprentice.

Apprenticeship Carolina staff members market apprenticeship opportunities directly to employers, starting the conversation with questions about their training needs and then working with them to determine how to design an apprenticeship program that will build their employees’ skill levels. Staff was flexible in their approach to program design, which can be shorter than traditional apprenticeships and incorporate a competency-based framework that measures progress by the number of competencies mastered rather than time in training.

The $1,000 tax credit, although not a decisive factor for employers, was an important incentive for them to spend meaningful time discussing the options and opportunities available (Lerman 2013).

Major Findings & Recommendations

The experiences of South Carolina bode well for diversity and inclusion during apprenticeship expansions. Racial, ethnic, and gender diversity do not appear to suffer from expansion initiatives and, particularly in the case of gender diversity, may even be bolstered by expansion. However, this does not imply that the Office of Apprenticeship or the State Apprenticeship Agencies should be complacent.

Evidence from South Carolina suggests that even if expansion efforts improve gender equity generally, women still face barriers to employment in male-dominated fields and with older apprenticeship programs. Investments like the ApprenticeshipUSA equity partner grants and the Women in Apprenticeship and Nontraditional Occupations grants are therefore essential for ensuring that apprenticeship expansion does not simply reproduce the same barriers and disparities in traditional apprenticeship occupations. South Carolina’s experiences suggest that significant gains for women can be achieved simply by targeting expansion efforts to new occupations. The data confirm what is widely known: that enormous gender disparities in apprenticeship are principally a product of the types of occupations that use the apprenticeship model.

Industry intermediaries can help promote gender equity by expanding apprenticeship into occupations where women are more prevalent. However, evidence from South Carolina suggests that it is easier to register new apprenticeship programs in less traditionally male occupations than to bring more women into traditionally male occupations, including those that used registered apprenticeship before the Apprenticeship Carolina initiative. National equity partner grants are targeted at both women and people of color. People of color participate in apprenticeships at higher rates than women, and these rates were largely maintained over the course of the Apprenticeship Carolina initiative. The strong representation of people of color in apprenticeships relative to women may weaken support for efforts to improve racial and ethnic diversity.

National equity partners could explore aspects of apprenticeship other than initial registration and hiring to support people of color, such as improving completion rates, credential attainment, and retention by the employer upon completion. Being hired as an apprentice does little good for workers if the apprenticeships are not completed and do not lead to a high-quality job.