Modernizing Apprenticeship Programs in the United States: The Top Four Issues Under Discussion Today [Blog Post]

Modernizing Apprenticeship Programs in the United States: The Top Four Issues Under Discussion Today [Blog Post]

Apprenticeships, once a system supervised by craft guilds and town governments, have a long history throughout the world as a means to employ young people under the guidance of master craftsmen.   Apprentices offered merchant shop owners an inexpensive form of labor in exchange for food, lodging, and formal training.

The allure of conventional apprenticeship programs remained most popular with the unions and military, especially in the construction and manufacturing industries. Over time, technical, formal, and vocational education changed the structure of apprenticeships, and bureaucratized the programs.

Today, the system is resurging around the globe – but at varying degrees of interest, and success. But, according to the U.S. Department of Labor, here in the U.S., apprenticeship programs remain relatively rare, with fewer than 450,000 registered apprenticeship programs in a civilian workforce of 160 million.

Why, then, at a time in which our country continues to struggle with growing educational debt, increasing community college drop-out rates, and the ongoing shortage of skilled labor, are we not racing to adopt the best practice of our U.K. neighbors across the pond?

According to Sarah Ayres Steinberg, a former policy analyst at the Center for American Progress in Washington, D.C., “Apprenticeship programs in the U.K. are promoted as a cost-effective and viable alternative to university-based education. The U.K. apprenticeship initiative is a model that we in the United States should consider following.”

Susan Ladika’s article Apprenticeships: Can they help solve the skills gap? published by CQ Researcher last month, noted a number of issues that we currently struggle with as 21st Century Americans. Our businesses – heavily comprised of debt-burdened college graduates competing for top positions – lack middle-skilled workers in labor markets. While industries of the strongest mention are healthcare, information technology, and manufacturing, labor market experts say that nearly half of all U.S. job openings between 2010 and 2020 will be for middle-skilled jobs.

Outlined, below, are the top four issues under discussion today, in the United States.

  1. Funding: Through the Obama Administration’s American Apprenticeship initiative, program goals will increase the number of apprenticeships to 750,000 before the end of the decade. The initiative awarded $265 million in grants to public-private partnerships between employers, organized labor, educational institutions, and others. The question remains whether or not the subsidies are large enough to attract employers.
  1. Perception: American society equates a four year degree to career success and stability. Apprenticeship programs are mistakenly viewed as culturally inferior and occupationally limiting. Workers are unfamiliar with the range of occupations, educational requirements, and salaries associated with apprenticeships.
  1. Awareness: Businesses are not aware of the benefits apprenticeship programs can provide. The perception is that the time, money, and effort involved in adopting a program is a long-term investment that holds too many risks. The fact is, businesses need guidance figuring out where to start, what to expect, and how to manage the process to achieve a meaningful return on investment.
  1. Execution: Mentoring models that can help guide execution are scarce in the United States. To succeed, businesses require an operational and implementation plan, which includes realizing and growing interest from employers, raising awareness with relevant training providers, securing training providers and matching curriculum to employer needs, maximizing government funding, and engaging and recruiting apprentice candidates.

These issues – along with a wealth of academic resources – are discussed in detail in Susan Ladika’s CQ Researcher article. It offers many insights that are well worth the time to digest, and consider.

The recent US presidential election result shows that there is an urgent need to re-skill America with high quality, sustainable jobs. The foundation of these new opportunities will come from a renewed effort to invest in skilled apprenticeships that help US firms compete on a level playing field with the rest of the world. What can we do to help address the challenges, to learn from the experiences offered from countries further along the path, and to speed adoption in the U.S.?

At Franklin Apprenticeships, we are focused on building the infrastructure to support a successful apprenticeship ecosystem in the United States. We welcome the opportunity to discuss these issues with you, first hand.

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