Workforce Spotlight

Addressing the Talent Pipeline – How Penn College is Revolutionizing Apprenticeship Training to Close the Skills Gap

September 09, 2020

In manufacturing and other applied technology sectors, a shortage of skilled workers has been a vexing and ongoing challenge for many years. Too few students pursue manufacturing-related career pathways, too few parents know enough about modern manufacturing and the associated opportunities to encourage that pursuit, and the existing workforce is short on the required skills to fill the needs of employers. Add the retirement of 10,000 baby boomers per day to the mix, and you have a perfect storm of skilled labor disconnect.


Pennsylvania College of Technology, a special mission affiliate of Penn State University, has a storied history of preparing individuals for careers in applied technology fields. The college helps companies address skills gap challenges in two key ways. Its academic programs produce graduates with extensive, hands-on skills honed in world-class facilities who can fill immediate needs for employers. And to upskill the existing workforce, training programs are customized and delivered to hundreds of companies and thousands of workers annually.


In recent years, the college’s Workforce Development department has focused on apprenticeship training programs as a vital component of upskilling workers, particularly for the manufacturing sector. Its apprenticeship programs have quickly evolved to meet the needs of employers on a national scale.


Tom Fry and Gerry Pena are industrial technology specialists who work with manufacturers to customize training programs, including apprenticeships. “Companies desperately needed flexible delivery models geared to their specific needs,” Fry noted. “We developed the iris platform to meet those needs for both an in-person or remote audience.”


Pena added, “Connecting with, and instructing groups of apprentices from varied locations allows them to not only receive the same training, but to interact with each other in a way not possible via other methods.”

Providing consistent training to multiple company locations meets a critical employer need. Rather than building numerous disparate programs, or dealing with the disruption and cost associated with travel to offsite facilities, iris brings fully interactive, expert-led training to any location.


Another significant evolution in apprenticeship comes in the form of modularization. It allows larger programs to be broken into their component parts and reconfigured in ways to meet the needs of any company. Last year, the college received a nearly $8 million grant to help offset employer training cost as this modularized approach, known as MIDAS (modular industry-driven apprenticeship strategies), is developed and scaled nationally.


“This program takes apprenticeship skill development down to the need of each individual apprentice,” said Chris Ray, executive director for workforce development. “Any given skill can be its own module, and this approach allows apprenticeships to be built for non-technical skills such as project management or supervisory topics.”


Through unique and innovative approaches to apprenticeship, Penn College is meeting employer needs and aggressively working to address the skills gap. When combined with efforts to educate the next generation on these high-skill, high-demand careers to attract greater numbers of future employees, this vital piece of company centered incumbent worker training can ultimately close that gap.


For information on how Penn College can help you solve skills gap challenges, please contact us at or visit