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Could Apprenticeships Save the American Workforce?

When you’re job searching, it can feel like there are hundreds of applicants for every open position, but some companies are struggling to fill jobs. Business Insider noted over 263,000 open positions in tech, as of February 2017.
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If companies could improve their pipeline of trained employees, they just might be able to hire the right person for the job, and retain them over the long-term as well. That’s just what apprenticeships could do — if companies and lawmakers invest in them.

How Apprenticeships Are Different from Internships

We’re not talking internships here. Apprenticeships by their nature are a different animal. Internships are often offered to undergraduate college students for a few weeks or months during summer or break, or sometimes for an hour or two during the school week. They are often unpaid, but generally offer school credit.

Apprenticeships, on the other hand, typically offer both training and pay. Apprenticeships in the U.S. were traditionally offered to train young workers for blue-collar jobs like plumbers or carpenters. The apprenticeships of the future could bring that idea of skilled technical training (and steady pay) to white-collar jobs in tech, banking and more.

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The U.S. Trails Behind Europe

In countries like Germany or Switzerland, apprenticeships are the norm for young students.

In The Atlantic, Tamar Jacoby notes:

Today in America, fewer than 5 percent of young people train as apprentices, the overwhelming majority in the construction trades. In Germany, the number is closer to 60 percent — in fields as diverse as advanced manufacturing, IT, banking, and hospitality. And in Europe, what’s often called ‘dual training’ is a highly respected career path.

And the students are competing for just a few spots in some of the most prestigious companies in the nation.

“At the John Deere plant in Mannheim, 3,100 young people apply each year for 60 slots, at Deutsche Bank in Frankfurt, it’s 22,000 applicants for 425 places,” Jacoby writes.

She notes that while German children choose a career track at age 10, it’s not set in stone. Students can pick an academic track (similar to our university system), or a vocational track, or “something in between.” They can also change tracks later on.

Fewer than 5 percent of young workers do apprenticeships. Boosting that number could help employers and workers alike.Click To Tweet

What the U.S. Apprentice System Could Look Like

While nobody is expecting things to change in the U.S. overnight, there is some hope. Companies like Amazon may move to train hourly workers for tech jobs. The Obama administration earmarked over $100 million in apprenticeship grants to inspire corporations to find solutions to increase their skilled workforce, and it’s working.

At CityLab, Megy Karydes writes of one great success story:

Zurich North America, which has about 3,000 employees on its campus in the Chicago suburb of Schaumburg, Illinois, launched its program in January 2016 with 24 new apprentices. It became the first insurance company in the country to offer registered apprenticeships, in partnership with a community college across the freeway, Harper College (recipient of one of the federal grants).

Where apprenticeships go from here, only time will tell.

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Tell Us What You Think

Would you have chosen an apprenticeship over college? We want to hear from you! Leave a comment or join the discussion on Twitter.


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Eric Scholtz

Blue collar workers will ultimately disappear because of robotics. So why should a youngster be interested in doing an apprenticeship? I am a 66 year old electrician who did a 5 year apprenticeship which covered everything from industrial electronics to conduit and wiring to motors and motor control and lots more. My argument has always been that I studied as hard as a doctor and was just as good at my job as a doctor is at his job. So why was I always treated as a second class citizen and paid a pittance by comparison to the doctor’s earnings?

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