Apprenticeships: Old idea is new again

Apprenticeships are making a come back – and not just in trade union jobs –but only a third of today’s apprentices are community college students. Apprenticeship has spread from construction trades to “skilled occupations such as computer operator, machinist, dental laboratory technician, tool and dye maker, electronic technician” and more, reports Community College Times.

In Switzerland, Austria and Germany, apprenticeships provide training for more than half of young people. There and elsewhere, apprenticeships have been grown to include information technology, finance, advanced manufacturing, and maritime occupations. Germany has the oldest and best-known apprenticeship system. It offers programs leading to recognized qualifications in about 350 different occupations.

In the U.S., “apprenticeship programs offer an array of advantages over pure postsecondary education programs,”  concludes a Center for American Progress report by economist Robert I. Lerman.

“Since apprenticeship openings depend on employer demand, mismatches between skills taught and supplied and skills demanded in the work place are unusual. Apprenticeships provide workers with a full salary so that participants can earn while they acquire valued skills. Apprentices learn in the context of real work settings and attain not only occupational skills but other work-related skills, including communication, problem solving, allocating resources, and dealing with supervisors and a diverse set of coworkers.”

Community colleges can provide the academic instruction apprentices need, while employers provide the occupational training and workplace skills, Lerman writes.

Some community colleges are “slow to develop new courses that are required as new programs or new technologies in existing programs arise,” reports Community College Times. But there are a growing number of successful apprenticeship programs.

In Washington State, more than 200 students are learning the ironworking trade through apprenticeships run by the Aerospace Joint Apprenticeship Committee, a state-funded partnership among community colleges, industry and the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers. The programs supply workers for Boeing Corp., the state’s largest employer.

South Carolina locates its major apprenticeship initiative, Apprenticeship Carolina, at its 16 technical colleges. The state-funded system is growing fast; since July 2007, the number of registered apprenticeship programs in South Carolina has grown from 90 to 230. All 16 of the state’s technical colleges are participating in apprenticeship programs.

The Wisconsin Youth Apprenticeship program was started in the 1990s and has matured into the nation’s largest apprenticeship opportunity for high school students. Under the two-year program, high school juniors and seniors complete up to 900 hours of work-based learning and related courses. Many also earn college credits, and 70 percent go on to higher education.

Apprenticeship could be used to prepare young people for the growing number of “middle-skill jobs” that require some postsecondary training but not a bachelor’s degree.


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