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.

I-BEST: Where job training works

If adults have to study basic skills before they start job training, most won’t make it. In Washington state, they can do both at the same time, reports NPR. Integrated Basic Education and Skills Training, better known as I-BEST, is getting adult students into the workforce quickly. More than 20 states are trying the model.

Candy Benteu teaches child development at Green River Community College. Co-teacher Rachel Rogers teaches reading, math and English. The two work together to make sure students understand idioms.

“Candy would say these phrases like, ‘Fly by the seat of your pants.’ And I would interrupt, and I’d say, ‘Does that mean I’m throwing my pants up in the air and flying?’ And she would laugh and the students would laugh because that’s what they’re thinking,” Rogers says. “By my modeling that, it gives them permission that it is OK to ask questions and that’s the sign of an intelligent and a good student.”

Benteu and Rogers also role-play appropriate workplace behavior, those “soft skills” — such as how to work in a team, follow rules and show up on time — that are critical to success. They may seem obvious, but are not.

“We have lots of conversations about the way we dress and the way we smell. Too much perfume, too much incense, not enough deodorant,” Rogers says.

Like most adult ed students, I-BEST students often are high school dropouts who struggle with reading and math.  Many don’t speak English fluently. job trainingAt I-BEST, they can take community college courses that lead to certificates in nearly 200 fields such as medical billing, welding, auto mechanics building maintenance  and more.

All programs must lead to jobs paying at least $13 an hour, which is considered a living wage in the state.

Students at Shoreline Community College learn about the physics of manual transmissions in class, then change into overalls to work on transmissions in the shop.

Today’s cars are complex, says instructor Mark Hankins. By the end of the program, “they can go out and do a brake job, they can do fluid replacement, they can do inspections. And those are the kind of jobs that there’s a big need for.”

C.J. Forza says his brain “just clicks with engines.” He dropped out of school in the 12th grade; he’s now 31. He loves cars so much he works part time in a mechanic shop already. Forza’s now learning the “why,” not just the “how,” of repairs.

“Instead of just guessing at what it is, I’m more able to figure out, OK, this issue can be caused by this, this or this,” he says.

Forza will earn a certificate in general auto mechanics in one year, boosting his pay from $10 an hour to $15.

Retool automotive job training

The auto industry needs workers with more advanced skills, said Kristin Dziczek of the Center for Automotive Research at the the American Association of Community Colleges’ annual Workforce Development Institute.

Auto manufacturing jobs fell by 54 percent at the depths of the recession and are now rebounding, but the new jobs require new skill sets, Dziczek said. Community colleges will need to retool automotive job training.

As baby boomers retire, auto makers will be looking for new hires with the “cross skills” to do a variety of jobs.

There is a growing role for tech support in auto repair, and mechanics need more “soft skills”—like problem-solving and customer relations skills—as well as the ability to understand data storage and analysis, Dziczek said.

Community colleges should specialize in training workers for certain industries and “cultivate your brand” as “the place they’ll go to for skilled workers,” Dziczek said.


Tech college puts work ethic on transcripts

Graduates of a Missouri technical college can show employers a transcript that includes a “job readiness” score and attendance as well as academic grades, reports Inside Higher EdLinn State Technical College hopes the new transcript will help students find jobs.

Instructors evaluate students’ job readiness and work ethic in six areas: safety, trust, timeliness, work habits, interpersonal and citizenship.

Job readiness is scored on a four-point scale. For example, a student must be described as “respectful” and “polite” to land a four in the interpersonal category. Lack of civility and the use of “slurs,” conversely, are on the checklist for a zero in interpersonal. As for safety, which is optional for general education courses, students get points for looking out for the safety of themselves and others, and score worse for the careless use of tools and equipment.

Under work habits, a student who’s diligent, organized and takes pride in a job well done earns a 4. A 3 usually goes beyond the minimum and has a good attitude. At the 2 level, the student is improving but needs supervision. A 1 needs supervision. Under 0, the student is lazy, takes no pride in work, ignores warnings and “thinks minimum is maximum.”

Evaluating workplace readiness is just starting to catch on at a few colleges, reports Inside Higher EdAsheville-Buncombe Technical Community College in North Carolina will issue grades and certificates for “soft skills,” such punctuality and teamwork, to help graduates find jobs.

Employers are complaining that new workers lack a strong work ethic, said Donald Claycomb, Linn State’s president. The college worked with industry partners to decide which skills to evaluate.

CC will evaluate ‘soft skills’

“Soft skills,” such as punctuality and teamwork will be factored into grades for many students at Asheville-Buncombe Technical Community College in North Carolina, reports Inside Higher Ed. Next year, the college will issue workplace readiness certificates in addition to traditional credentials.

Located in Asheville, N.C., A-B Tech, as it is commonly known, has developed a template that helps faculty members determine how to incorporate eight primary workplace expectations into grading, including personal responsibility, interdependence and emotional intelligence. Soft skills should count for 8 to 10 percent of grades in courses that adopt those guidelines, college officials said.

“We’re teaching our students to walk the walk,” said Jean B. Finley, an instructor of business computer technologies.

A-B Tech will grade students on how they work with classmates in study groups and interact with instructors in professionally worded e-mails.

The main goal is to encourage students to take personal responsibility and display a strong work ethic, said Melissa Quinley, A-B Tech’s vice president of instructional services.

. . . Quinley said local employers are generally pleased with the technical and academic accomplishments of A-B Tech students. But soft skills can be a problem. For example, she said the college recent held a focus group with welding companies, where some participants said A-B Tech graduates were talented and got the welding part, but that some showed up late for work too often.

Students don’t pick up “soft skills” by osmosis, writes Community College Dean. Teaching students “the rules of the game”  is the egalitarian thing to do.

I’ve been to more than my share of employer advisory boards over the last dozen years, at three different colleges.  They’re remarkably consistent; every time, the feedback is that we’re doing well with the specific technical skills, but that many students arrive with serious gaps in communication, presentation and general employee conduct.

Students need to understand the importance of punctuality, meeting deadlines and communicating frustration in an acceptable way in the workplace, the dean writes.  “The odd blend of surface egalitarianism and deep hierarchy that defines many workplaces can be a minefield if you don’t know how to read it.”

Years ago, I did a series on welfare reform for the San Jose Mercury News. Two of the long-term welfare mothers we followed found jobs — and ran into trouble because they didn’t know unspoken workplace rules.

Readiness goes beyond academic skills

While “students need strong academic skills to succeed in postsecondary education,”  college readiness includes non-academic skills, behaviors and attitudes, write Melinda Mechur Karp and Rachel Hare Bork, researchers at the Community College Research Center, Teachers College, Columbia, in Inside Higher Ed. Many new students — especially those who are the first in their family to go to college –don’t understand what’s expected of them.

In our recent research, we identified four specific areas — academic habits, cultural know-how, the ability to balance school and other demands and engaging in help-seeking — in which college faculty had clear expectations of their students. These expectations differed substantively from those in high school, and while meeting them was critical to college success, they remained largely unspoken.

Many college instructors think they already clearly articulate their expectations to students, but our research indicates that behavioral expectations must be made far more explicit and precise.

. . . For example, when an instructor asks students to “come to class prepared,” what does she mean? If she means coming to class having completed a reading and being prepared to participate in discussions about it, she can include this expectation in the syllabus, explain it to students from the first day of class, and assign students to write out three questions or observations about the reading to discuss each week.

What does it mean to “study hard” for a test? Students may not know the difference between studying in high school and college — unless they’re told.

“Educators must stop blaming students for breaking rules that they do not know exist,” conclude Karp and Bork.

NC creates ‘stackable’ energy jobs curricula

North Carolina community colleges have consolidated “green” jobs’ programs, creating stackable credentials that let students move easily between jobs and advanced schooling, reports Inside Higher Ed.

Using employer feedback on core skills and competencies, the 58-college system created 47 new courses, revised 219 and dropped 92.

“Our goal was not to create one-off programs” at individual campuses, said Scott Ralls, the system’s president. “It’s a curriculum that cuts across 58 colleges.”

. . . The program, named the Code Green Super Curriculum Improvement Project, affects academic areas related to building, energy, environment, transportation and engineering technology.  More than 80 curriculum standards were consolidated into 32 revised ones, based on “career clusters” like architecture and construction technology (see box).

In many cases, students can earn an industry-recognized certificate with 12 to 18 credits, find a job and return later to any community college in the state to work toward a higher-level certificate or degree.

In addition to technical courses, the new energy credentials include “employability competencies,” such as working in teams.

Training or educating?

Community colleges try to meet employers’ needs for workers, since many students are eager to fill entry-level jobs, writes Community College Dean. But there’s a difference between “foot-in-the-door skills” and “promotion and career” skills.

When he worked at a for-profit university, employers said that “at as long as students had a basic set of technical skills, what separated one student from another was the soft skills.”

Those who were merely trained may get the foot in the door quickly, if they were trained in the right thing at the right time, but they won’t last long and they won’t get promoted. Moving from working the help desk to managing the help desk requires the soft skills that real education can help develop.

The catch, of course, is that when you’re unemployed and desperate, all that long-term stuff is very much the kind of thing you will get to later. You need an income, and you need it now.

While grants fund short-term job training, “faculty, who own the curricular development say-so through the governance process, focus almost entirely on degree programs,” the dean writes.

They don’t want to “train,” and they’ll use the term disparagingly. They want to educate, and they want the full two years (or, in practice, more) to do it.

But not every student can take two or three years before making money. Some never will, and some will get around to it later after they’ve taken care of business. Basing everything on the assumed ideal of the first-time, full-time, degree-seeking student — the IPEDS cohort — is easier, but it doesn’t address the daily reality of the lives of most of the students who come here.

Most community college students who aim for an associate degree don’t reach their goal; “some college” but no credential does not increase their job prospects or earnings, labor economists have found.  Success rates are much higher for students seeking vocational certificates. Certificates that take one year or longer to earn do improve earnings significantly.  Community colleges would help their job-seeking students by offering “stackable” certificates that eventually lead to a degree for those who want to continue their education.