Realtor-lawyer in training
It’s as sensible as bringing voc-ed back into our schools, but the idea still meets resistance from employers and young people alike. Too bad.
Apprenticeships can offer a precise match between the skills employers want and the training workers receive, says Robert Lerman, an economics professor at American University.
“It’s a great model for transferring skills from one generation to the next,” says John Ladd, director of the Department of Labor’s Office of Apprenticeship.
Nevertheless, according to the Labor Department, formal programs that combine on-the-job learning with mentorships and classroom education fell 40% in the U.S. between 2003 and 2013.
All of which leads to the question: If apprenticeships are the solution to a pressing problem, why is there so much resistance?
Perhaps the biggest obstacle is that two-thirds of apprenticeship programs in the U.S. are in the construction industry, furthering a blue-collar image that stifles interest among young people and the employers who could create jobs for them. Construction unions, which dominate many of the state agencies devoted to apprenticeships, haven’t done much outreach to other industries, Mr. Lerman says.
At the same time, business owners and managers sometimes shy away from apprenticeships because of their association with unions. “There’s an underlying fear among employers” that unions want to come in and organize workers, or that any apprenticeship program would be run by a union, says J. Ronald DeJuliis, head of labor and industry at Maryland’s Department of Labor.
Yet, he and others say, it doesn’t have to be that way. Apprenticeships today involve lots more industries than the handful of trades that embraced the earn-and-learn model beginning in 1937 when the National Apprenticeship Act was passed. Nursing assistants, wastewater technicians and computer-system administrators are among the positions for which apprentices can now train.
Earlier this month, President Obama set aside $100 million to go toward apprenticeships in high-growth industries, and recognized new programs in health care, information technology and supply-chain management.
Another damper is a widely held view that young people should stay in school and then get a job. Advocates of apprenticeships say this thinking is misguided.
College degrees and internships don’t produce the same quality of worker as intensive, on-the-job apprenticeships, says Brad Neese, director of Apprenticeship Carolina, a program of the South Carolina Technical College System. Employers are seeing “a real lack of applicability in terms of skill level” from college graduates, Mr. Neese says. “Interns do grunt work, generally.” In contrast, he says, “an apprenticeship is a real job.”
Compared to the low value of so many college degrees, and considering that many students don’t need to and in fact shouldn’t go to college, this seems almost a no-brainer. Hell, it’s how lawyers used to be trained, and if you can train a lawyer, you can train anything and anyone.