Apprenticeship: Is it time?

Factory apprenticeship is the latest model from Germany, reports the New York Times. After the first 60 workers were hired at BMW’s South Carolina factory, “it seemed like we had sucked up everybody who knew about diesel engines,” said Joerg Klisch, vice president for North American operations of Tognum America. The factory needs workers who can repair robots and operate computers.

Tognum has created an apprenticeship program in partnership with local high schools and a career center.

“South Carolina offers a fantastic model for what we can do nationally,” said Ben Olinsky, co-author of a forthcoming report by the Center for American Progress, a liberal Washington research organization, recommending a vast expansion in apprenticeships.

In Germany, apprentices divide their time between classroom training in a public vocational school and practical training at a company or small firm. Some 330 types of apprenticeships are accredited by the government in Berlin, including such jobs as hairdresser, roofer and automobile electronics specialist. About 60 percent of German high school students go through some kind of apprenticeship program, which leads to a formal certificate in the chosen skill and often a permanent job at the company where the young person trained.

In the U.S., apprenticeships face obstacles from left and right, reports the Times. “School officials were wary of allowing a private company to dictate the curriculum,” while employers feared apprenticeships meant unions.

Young people in their 20s and 30s can apply to be BMW Scholars. They  study full-time at local technical colleges for two years while working in the BMW factory for 20 hours a week.

Apprenticeship closes the skills gap, writes Mary Alice McCarthy, a New America Foundation policy analyst, on EdCentral. But many employers aren’t willing to develop new workers’ skills.

Instead, employers wait for the perfect job candidate, reports Time in The Real Reason Recent Grads Can’t Get Hired. Companies say they can’t find “team players, problem solvers [who] can plan, organize and prioritize their work.”

Business has shifted the onus of skills development almost entirely onto job seekers” and local education providers, writes McCarthy.

Young workers in the 1970s received an average of 2.5 weeks of training per year. By contrast, a 2011 survey of employees and employers by Accenture revealed that only 21% of workers had received any formal training in the last five years.

Young people need the chance to learn on the job “how to navigate an organization, manage a work project, communicate effectively with colleagues, supervisors, and clients and solve work-specific problems,” McCarthy writes.

New tool helps adults get credit for experience

To award college credits for students’ prior learning, colleges need a way to assess their training and experience, notes Community College Times. Rio Salado College in Arizona is using LearningCounts, an electronic portfolio-assessment initiative from the Council for Adult and Experiential Learning (CAEL).

Students create electronic portfolios that are “assessed by expert faculty members from across the U.S. who examine the content and breadth of each student’s on-the-job learning, corporate training, independent study, military service and volunteer service,” reports Community College Times. LearningCounts then recommends how much credit to award.

Houston Community College (HCC) in Texas is using CAEL’s tool to provide an objective portfolio assessment, said Madeline Burillo, associate vice chancellor for workforce instruction at HCC.

“Especially in large community college systems where you have different colleges, a department chair at one college might have a different opinion about a portfolio than a department chair from another college.”

North Iowa Area Community College (NIACC) is testing LearningCounts to replace a cumbersome portfolio-assessment process.

Adult students seek credit for experience

Some colleges are giving students credit for work and life experience, writes Jon Marcus for the Hechinger Report and McClatchy Newspapers. But, so far, few students are turning on-the-job experience into college credits and speedier degrees.

The Council for Adult and Experiential Learning is trying to change that by launching a campaign to enable adults to prepare online portfolios of their job experience that independent faculty will evaluate for academic credit.

One hundred institutions in 30 states are on board. Top higher-education associations back the coalition, and major foundations are bankrolling it. It hopes to reach tens of thousands of people within five years.

Professors often oppose giving credit for experience, said Pamela Tate, who heads the council. “They still believe that ‘If you weren’t in my class, you couldn’t possibly know it,’ ” she said.

Credit for work experience can have its downsides. The credits are difficult to transfer if you change universities, and substituting them for introductory requirements can cause problems for students later in their careers, when they can’t keep up with classmates in writing or other basic academic skills.

Forty percent of college students are 25 and older.

“All of our institutional frameworks have been created around 18-year-olds coming out of high schools without any experience. They’re the empty vessels into which we pour knowledge. But when you’re a working adult, you’re hardly an empty vessel,” said Lee Gorsuch, the president of CityU.

“You learn by doing,” Gorsuch added. “We’re not anti-intellectual, but can you balance a spreadsheet or can’t you?”

Servicemembers Opportunity Colleges, a consortium 0f 1,900 colleges and universities, helps veterans get credit for military training and experience. Some  45,892 vets earned 805,473 credits last year.

Navy veteran John McGowan was awarded enough credits for his electronics training and other military experience that he got a bachelor’s degree in half the usual time from Irvine, Calif.-based Brandman University, even while working full time. “I went from zero college to a bachelor’s degree in two years,” McGowan said.

In some cases, experienced students can earn credit by passing a test. But often students have to put together autobiographical portfolios for faculty review, paying as much as if they’d enrolled in the course.