Buying into a European-style apprenticeship program could reduce youth unemployment, make college free, and reduce the skills gap. So why are we so ambivalent?
Plumbers, HVAC technicians, welders, and electricians are usually who come to mind when most Americans think of apprenticeship programs or vocational training. These types of jobs offer dependable work and a good middle-class income.
But in a country where there’s a “devaluation with people who work with their hands,” as Peter Cookson Jr., director of the Equity Project at the American Institute of Research, puts it. According to Cookson, the person we often picture in a vocational program is someone on the rebound, making up for bad high-school grades or possibly a troubled past. Our collective impression of vocational training is so bad that it’s been rebranded “career-and-technical education.”
Not long after taking office, President Obama has offered career-and-technical education programs as a possible solution to unemployment, the “skills-gap,” costly college education, and the dissolving middle-class salary. In September 2015, the Labor Department awarded $175 million to a collection of high schools, community colleges, and organizations to fund apprenticeship programs across the U.S.
The money went to help, among many more, 330 students in central Virginia train for jobs in advanced manufacturing. It will help 450 apprentices find healthcare jobs in Juneau, Alaska. And in Santa Clara, California, Mission College said it will use its award to get veteran, Latino, black, and female students into the tech industry.
Traditionally, most apprenticeship programs have been small and initiated by company and community partners. But scaling up to a countrywide system, like those in many European countries, will take much more than money and willpower. It’s going to take a shift in our national psyche, or what Cookson Jr. calls our “background problem – that everyone is going to be rich, and that all you need is ambition and luck. The Horatio Alger story.”
Take Germany, for example.
It’s “dual system” allows young people who decide that university isn’t for them, to enroll in a work/learn program. A student might spend three days a week working for – and being paid by – a company, and the other day studying in class. After about three years, they segue into full-time work. About 60% of young people in Germany train through apprentice programs, and they go on to work in more than 340 different occupations, many of them blue-collar, but also in fields like marketing, pharmacology, sales, and accounting.
Companies hire trained workers. Students get free education and a job. And at 8%, the German economy hums along with one of the lowest youth-unemployment rates in the Eurozone. In 2013, Spain, with 53% of its young people unemployed, signed a deal to import Germany’s program. So did Greece, Italy, Latvia, Portugal, and Slovakia.
Another recent adopter is the United Kingdom. After the global economic crisis, high youth unemployment, and an aging workforce headed for retirement, the U.K. underwent a “political and social change in the way people view apprenticeships,” says Mikki Draggoo with the London-based City & Guilds Group. The U.S., Draggoo says, faces the same exact challenges, especially in regards to its experienced but soon-to-be retired workforce. You can’t sit and wait in the U.S. and fill the gap of forty years of experience with someone straight out of university.”
Even if the U.S. did submit an initiative to bring this program state-side, instituting a countrywide apprenticeship program would almost certainly mean reinforcing the idea that not everyone is cut out for a bachelor’s degree. Not to mention, the price tag for a bachelor’s degree deters lower-income students from applying to four-year universities.
“The consequence of not addressing this issue,” Cookson Jr. says, “is going to be lower wages, increased joblessness, increased class division, and a very divided society.”
Read Article (J. Weston Phippen | theatlantic.com | 01/08/2016)
Unfortunately, a bachelor’s degree from our theory based educational system is poor competition for a bachelor’s equivalent from another country. Their apprentice based educational systems provide hands-on real life experience behind the degree program.
Which do you think Intel would hire?
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