Gov. Tom Wolf set a goal this year of having 30,000 apprentices in Pennsylvania by 2025 as part of a workforce development initiative dubbed PAsmart.
The state is just shy of 17,000, after adding more than 3,500 apprentices since the state’s Apprenticeship and Training Office was created in 2016, putting it in the top 10 among states.
“Are we ahead of schedule on that goal? I’m not sure, but there is a lot of momentum happening in Pennsylvania,” said Eric Ramsay, director of the apprenticeship office in the Department of Labor & Industry.
Indeed, more than 50 apprenticeship programs have been created over the last two years in Pennsylvania as employers in many industries look to develop a pipeline of young talent. Whether they are replacing retiring workers or adding new ones, employers are driven by a shortage of skilled labor and a low unemployment rate.
The growth is coming from partnerships in construction-related fields as well as non-traditional areas like culinary arts.
Consider the Lebanon County Career & Technology Center, which formed a partnership last year with Hershey Entertainment & Resorts. The Derry Township resort is hoping to beef up its stable of chefs. About 10 apprentices are in the program so far.
“The demand for qualified and quality employees has always been there. It’s no less now than ever,” said Bart Umidi, executive chef at the Hershey Lodge.
Apprenticeships are a way for employers like Hershey Entertainment to develop a highly trained, more reliable workforce. For aspiring chefs, apprenticeships can be a cost-effective way to get education and on-the-job training, with the benefit of knowing the multiyear experience should lead to a good-paying job.
The center charges apprentices a $10,000 tuition for the 4,000-hour program, but there are also tuition reimbursements and scholarship programs students can tap to reduce the cost, said Brian Peffley, the Lebanon center’s program coordinator. Formal culinary education programs can cost up to 10 times that amount.
“We know we can give them a great education at a reasonable price,” he said.
In addition to lower cost, the culinary apprentices get to experience a range of cooking styles at a variety of Hershey resort restaurants. Apprentices currently rotate between the Hershey Lodge, The Hotel Hershey and the Hershey Country Club.
Jarrod Eltz believes the opportunity will help him in his career as a chef.
The 20-year-old Palmyra native said he was “hellbent” on attending The Culinary Institute of America after graduating high school in 2016, but the promise of a new apprenticeship program through Hershey kept him at home. The Culinary Institute of America, which has campuses across the country, charges tuition of nearly $18,000 per semester.
He said he’s glad he stayed because he has picked up a wide range of skills and experiences, from fine dining to bar food and everything in between. When he completes his apprenticeship next year, Eltz said he will have a “jumpstart” on other aspiring chefs because of the credentials he can earn, which will make him more marketable.
He expects to stay in Hershey, though he admits he’s already getting asked about other jobs.
“This can open a lot of doors for us,” he said. “After apprenticeships, I definitely will have some options.”
Peffley said he believes apprenticeship programs like the one with Hershey Entertainment will help keep more talented young people in Central Pennsylvania. Before the program was launched, culinary students might have worked at the Hershey properties over holiday breaks, but they might have gone elsewhere for apprenticeship opportunities.
Umidi hopes this program will plant the seeds for long-term growth at Hershey Entertainment. The organization expects to be hiring as it undertakes a planned $150 million expansion at Hersheypark in 2020. It is adding a new 23-acre area, called Chocolatetown, which will include a two-story themed restaurant with a bar and patio overlooking the park, an ice cream parlor and confectionary scratch kitchen, among other additions.
Chocolatetown is being built on current park land and on some undeveloped land next to the park, including on what was the old Hershey swimming pool site.
The Lebanon center is in the process of trying to expand the apprenticeship program to four other host sites in the region, Peffley said, declining to name potential partners.
“We haven’t signed the deal,” he said, adding that he hopes to finalize agreements by spring and have students at new host sites by next summer or fall.
State labor officials said group apprenticeship models with multiple employers are gaining traction in Pennsylvania.
And outreach efforts to attract other businesses are ramping up, said Eileen Cipriani, deputy secretary for workforce development.
State officials see opportunities to expand apprenticeships in skilled trades, manufacturing, health care and IT, among others. Several pre-apprenticeship programs have also cropped up this year, including culinary and carpentry programs at Milton Hershey School.
“We definitely have some momentum right now,” Ramsay said.