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Innovations in Training at Commerce

Leonardo DaVinci.  Paul Revere.  Ben Franklin.  Vincent Van Gogh.  Elvis Presley.  David Beede.  April Blair. William Hawk. Andrea Julca.  Karlheinz Skowronek. Patricia Tomczyszyn.

Which names don’t seem to belong with the others?  Trick question.  While DaVinci and other names obviously are famous, the backgrounds of all of these women and men have something major in common: They trained as apprentices.

Cover image of the The Benefits and Costs of Apprenticeships: A Business Perspective report.DaVinci and Van Gogh apprenticed as painters.  Revere, as a silversmith and Franklin, as a printer.  Elvis apprenticed not as a singer, but as an electrician.  As for Beede, Blair, Hawk, Julca, Skowronek and Tomczyszyn, they are all Commerce Department employees who trained on the job in data analysis, discovery and visualization at the Commerce Data Academy.  (More on this in a bit.)

This past November included National Apprenticeship Week, and as US Secretary of Labor Thomas Perez said, “Apprenticeships are experiencing a modern renaissance in America because the earn-while-learn model is a win-win proposition for workers looking to punch their ticket to the middle-class and for employers looking to grow and thrive in our modern global economy.”

The first-time study of the business benefits and costs of apprenticeships by ESA’s Office of Chief Economist and Case Western University underscores the point.  Key findings of the full report from 13 case studies include:

  • Companies turned to apprenticeships most often when they simply could not find skilled workers off the street locally.
  • Filling hard-to-fill jobs was the single most common benefit of apprenticeships.
  • Companies adapt apprenticeships to meet their unique needs.

The report also looked at the relative costs and benefits at two companies.  Siemens finds an 8 percent return on investment to its apprenticeship program relative to hiring skilled workers.  The Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Centers apprenticeships helped to reduce unpopular, unproductive, expensive overtime work from medical providers and to increase booked hours, which together more than paid for the apprentices.

ApprenticeshipUSA Toolkit - Advancing Apprenticeship as a Workforce StrategyOverall, the companies studied were unanimous in their support of registered apprenticeships.  They found value in the program and identified benefits that more than justified the costs and commitments to the apprentices.

The Labor Department’s ApprenticeshipUSA program offers tools and information to employers and employees about adopting the age-old earn-while-learning model for 21st century workforce needs.

Meanwhile, Commerce is helping to pioneer a hands-on, data-centric instructional model for the federal government by establishing our Commerce Data Academy – winner of the FedScoop 50 Tech Program of the Year for 2016.

Launched by the Commerce Data Service, the Data Academy’s goal is to empower more Commerce employees to make data-driven decisions, advancing the data pillar of Secretary Penny Pritzker’s “Open for Business” strategy and bringing a data-driven approach to modernizing government.

The Academy began as a pilot last January to test demand for training in data science, data engineering and web development training.  The pilot offered classes in agile development, HTML & CSS, Storytelling with Data, and Excel at Excel. 

Commerce Data Academy - Educating and empowering Commerce Employees.

We crossed our fingers for at least 30 pilot enrollees.  We were thrilled to receive 422 registrations, and initial classes posted a nearly 90 percent attendance rate. 

This overwhelming response told us: We needed to officially launch the Academy. 

So we did, and to date, we have presented 20 courses (two more are coming) with topics from agile development, to storytelling with data, to machine learning, to programming in Python. We have more than 1,900 unique Commerce registrants and nearly 1,100 unique attendees so far.

For the truly committed (and talented), the Academy offers an in-depth residency program that features a chance to work alongside data scientists and professional developers within the Commerce Data Service.  Residents must tough through an immersive boot camp to prepare for a three-month detail, but the reward is a chance to work on a high-priority problem or need identified by their home bureaus.

The first class of 13 residents recently graduated, and their bureaus are thrilled with the data-oriented products they have created – several featured at the recent Opportunity Project Demo Day and the Commerce Data Advisory Council (CDAC) meeting – and they’ve been instrumental in many of the Commerce Data Service’s award-winning innovations.

We really appreciated the additional feedback from CDAC’s digital thought leaders who encouraged us to spread the word out about our academy, join the online digital education community, harness the alumni network as it grows, and keep teaching our grads. 

Back Row L-R: Kevin Markham (Instructor, General Assembly); Steven Finkelstein (Census); Dmitri Smith (BIS); William Hawk (ESA); David Garrow (Census); Adam Bray (Instructor, General Assembly); David Beede (ESA). Front Row L-R: Karlheinz Skowronek (PTO), April Blair (PTO), Tanya Shen (BEA), Stephen Devine (EDA), Laura Cutrer (NOAA), and Patricia Tomczyszyn (MBDA). Not pictured: Amanda Reynolds (ITA), Gregory Paige (OS), Andrea Julca (BEA), Jennifer Rimbach (MBDA) Photograph: Dr. Tyrone Grandison.

Back Row L-R: Kevin Markham (Instructor, General Assembly); Steven Finkelstein (Census); Dmitri Smith (BIS); William Hawk (ESA); David Garrow (Census); Adam Bray (Instructor, General Assembly); David Beede (ESA). Front Row L-R: Karlheinz Skowronek (PTO), April Blair (PTO), Tanya Shen (BEA), Stephen Devine (EDA), Laura Cutrer (NOAA), and Patricia Tomczyszyn (MBDA). Not pictured: Amanda Reynolds (ITA), Gregory Paige (OS), Andrea Julca (BEA), Jennifer Rimbach (MBDA) Photograph: Dr. Tyrone Grandison.

Data skills are invaluable in the 21st century digital economy, and we want to do our part to advance America’s economy and competitiveness. 

Jake Schwartz, CEO and co-founder of the education startup General Assembly (a collaborator in setting up the initial Commerce Data Academy courses), recently told CNBC that the number-one skill that employers demand now is around data science, development and analytics.  This demand is driving new opportunities for rewarding jobs and careers in data.  But not just for digital and data professionals.  Everyone, in almost every industry and every job, and every level, including CEOs, will need a basic grounding. 

“An investment in knowledge,” onetime apprentice Ben Franklin said, “pays the best interest.” 

Franklin’s employers who invested in his printing apprenticeship certainly never imagined that he would leverage his trade to help found a nation.  Who knows how the Commerce Data Academy will launch David Beede, April Blair, William Hawk, Andrea Julca, Karlheinz Skowronek, Patricia Tomczyszyn and other alumni – current and future – to a future that could change the world. 

Thanks for reading.

Justin

Justin Antonipillai - Counselor to Secretary Penny Pritzker, with the Delegated Duties of the Under Secretary for Economic Affairs

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