Despite the low unemployment levels, employers are worried about retaining and replacing their skilled workforce. Baby boomers are reaching retirement age, and many young people are not interested in industries like construction, manufacturing and warehousing because they mistakenly think these sectors offer low wages and little upward mobility.

According to the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce, the nation is expected to face a shortage of 5 million workers with necessary education and training by 2020.

A formal, registered apprenticeship program may be the answer for some employers. Apprenticeship offers businesses a way to grow their own skilled workforce through a time-tested, structured system of on-the-job training coupled with related classroom instruction.

Apprenticeships can be union or nonunion. The length of an apprenticeship program can vary depending on the employer, the complexity of the occupation, the industry and the type of program. Registered apprenticeships typically require 2,000 to 8,000 work hours. The apprenticeship is broken down into skill sets with a set number of hours for each skill area. Apprenticeship also includes structured related supplemental (classroom) instruction. Each year of apprenticeship (2,000 hours) requires 144 hours of related supplemental instruction. It’s optional for the employer to pay tuition for classroom time.

Unlike other training systems, apprentices “earn while they learn.” As paid employees, apprentices receive a paycheck from day one with periodic raises to reflect increased experience, skills and abilities. After meeting a minimum number of hours and passing a skills test, an apprentice graduates to a journey-level worker with a nationally recognized credential that he or she can take with them.

Registered apprenticeships include a written agreement approved by and registered with the Washington State Apprenticeship & Training Council. This agreement specifies the length of training, related classroom instruction, an outline of the skills of the trade, and the progressive wages the apprentice will be paid. Apprenticeship also includes a journey level mentor at the job site for not less than one year.

Apprenticeships help businesses develop a pipeline of highly skilled employees. Businesses have the opportunity to train workers to meet their specific standards. Apprenticeships can reduce turnover, lower recruitment costs and enhance employee retention. Apprentices are loyal to companies that invest in them.

Since apprentices start out earning less than a fully trained, skilled worker, businesses can actually save money by sponsoring an apprenticeship. Skilled workers improve productivity, and create a safer workplace because apprenticeship emphasizes safe workplace practices.

For more information about available apprenticeships in Washington state, visit: http://www.lni.wa.gov/TradesLicensing/Apprenticeship/WSATC.

• Michelle Smith is an employer engagement analyst for the South Central Workforce Development Council in Yakima.

Reach Mai Hoang at maihoang@yakimaherald.com or Twitter @maiphoang