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.

Massachusetts bets on performance funding

Massachusetts is betting that funding community colleges based on performance will close the job skills gap, reports Governing. Most states with performance funding link less than 10 percent of higher education to results. Massachusetts will tie half of its community college funds to results. Only Tennessee goes that far.

performance fundingMassachusetts also increased its community college funding by $20 million after years of cutbacks. It dropped a funding formula that gave some campuses  nearly $6,000 per full-time student while others received only $2,500.

In addition to Massachusetts and Tennessee, 11 states have added performance criteria to community college (and sometimes university) budgets. Four other states are moving in that direction.

Demands for accountability are rising, says Richard Kazis, vice president of Jobs for the Future, which promotes workforce development. “There’s a sense that we shouldn’t just fund institutions for getting people to sit in seats briefly; we should fund them for succeeding and moving people forward. How do you make the most out of each dollar?”

Massachusetts will tie funding to each community college’s ability to improve graduation rates, contribute to the state’s workforce needs and help more minority students succeed. Within three years, half of each college’s funding will hinge on these benchmarks. The other half will be determined by course credits completed.

Community college presidents accepted performance funding “as the price of getting a rational funding formula,” says Bill Messner, president of Holyoke Community College.

South Carolina jumped to 100 percent performance funding for colleges and universities in 1996. The system used dozen of metrics.

 “They built a system they couldn’t deliver,” says Kazis of Jobs for the Future. The funding formula was never embraced by university faculty and administrators, who were not included in the process of designing it. Administrators who tried to implement the program were overloaded with unfamiliar demands. After seven years, the program was abandoned.

Massachusetts and Tennessee going slow and collaborating with the higher education community, notes Governing.

To prevent colleges from boost success rates by limiting access, both states award points for outcomes achieved by low-income, adult or minority students.

During the first two years of the new performance funding system, all but one of Tennessee’s 13 community colleges increased the number of associate degrees awarded to low-income students. At the state’s nine universities, all succeeded in increasing the number of bachelor’s degrees awarded to low-income students.

Rewarding enrollment growth and ignoring results sends the wrong message, says Richard Freeland, higher education commissioner in Massachusetts. “It leads to too many students coming in the door and dropping by the wayside.”

A future for all: Build paths to skilled jobs

While President Obama focuses on sending more young people to college, “apprenticeships and other pathways to rewarding careers are more cost-effective for millions of young people,” argue Robert Lerman, an American University economics professor, and Nicholas Wyman, founder of The Institute for Workplace Skills and Innovation, on PBS NewsHour.

Photo by Ulrich Baumgarten via Getty Images.
Two out of every five young adults are unemployed, yet employers can’t find “machinists, computer numerical controllers, electricians, welders, healthcare technicians” and other workers with “middle skills,” Lerman and Wyman write. The idea that everyone should pursue a bachelor’s degree has created a skills gap.

They see encouraging signs:

In New York City, for example, ‘P-Tech’ school, a collaboration involving IBM, the City’s Education Department and CUNY, is providing a STEM oriented, grades 9-to-14 curriculum with work-based learning that leads to a high school diploma and an associates degree. P-Tech’s aim is to turn out graduates with the skills they need to step directly into solid, good paying technical jobs–or to go on the higher learning with great confidence of success.

South Carolina is strengthening career tech, developing first-rate technical colleges and boosting apprenticeships.

In Pickens County, which is part of Appalachia, the closure of cotton mills and textile plants has depressed incomes and expectations.

Yet the county’s K-12 school system is confidently preparing young people for decent careers. It begins in grammar school where children receive hands-on experience with STEM concepts and problem solving. It continues at the district’s state-of-the-art Career & Technical Center, where vocationally-oriented high school students have access to industry-experienced teachers and to the machine tools, computers, robotic systems, and other equipment they will encounter in the most modern workplaces. School leaders and teachers have also overturned the long-standing perception of parents and students that the Career & Tech Center is for low-achievers. Entry to the Center’s ‘Technician Scholar’ program is by application only; kids with low GPAs and bad attitudes need not apply. It’s now cool to be a “Scholar Technician.”

Local employers collaborate with superintendents, sending their managers and technicians to work with teachers and mentor promising students.

Apprenticeship Carolina, a state program, helps employers start apprenticeships programs and coordinates with local technical colleges. Since its 2007 start, apprenticeships have increased six-fold in the state.

Students with different goals need different skills, Lerman argues. “High schools fail so many kids partly because educators can’t get free of the notion that all students — regardless of their career aspirations — need the same basic preparation. As states pile on academic courses, they give less attention to the arts and downplay career and technical education to make way for a double portion of math.”

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.

Students without papers

Should community colleges educate illegal immigrants? North Carolina’s policy is seesawing wildly.

Last September, the State Board of Community Colleges decided to admit undocumented U.S. high school graduates, if they don’t displace a U.S. citizen and pay out-of-state tuition, about $7,700 a year, compared to the in-state rate of $1,600.

Now community college system President Scott Ralls has told colleges to ban all illegals to follow federal rules, which may not apply. From McClatchy Newspapers:

It comes despite the federal government’s assertion last week that it has no authority over admissions at North Carolina colleges and despite Governor Mike Easley’s request that the colleges remain open to all students.

Ralls said he will continue to seek clarification of federal law regarding the eligibility of illegal immigrants for post-secondary education and that another policy change is possible. Ralls, who became president of the system this month, said this is the fourth time since 2001 that the system has changed its policy on illegal immigrants.

. . . Undocumented students will still be allowed to enrol in non-degree programs, including general equivalency classes, English as a second language courses and classes for high school credit.

Of the 300,000 students enrolled in degree programs at the state’s community colleges, 112 are undocumented; those students will be allowed to remain, the statement from the community colleges said.

Meanwhile,  North Carolina legislators have introduced legislation to adopt a permanent ban, reports The Cleveland County Star.  

“There are many ways they can get an education without the state becoming the abettor of breaking federal law,” Rep. George Cleveland, R-Onslow, said.  He said they can go to a private school or go back to their home country for education.

. . . “Those seats should go to American citizens,” Gaston Rep. Pearl Burris-Floyd said.

What does federal law say?  It depends on whether  community college students who pay out-of-state tution are receiving  a “public benefit,” writes Dr. Jameson Taylor.

State policies vary widely:  Nine states allow illegal immigrants to pay in-state tuition at state colleges;  South Carolina passed a law last year banning illegals from all public colleges and universities, while Alabama’s two-year system bans illegals.

It’s a tough issue, writes Community College Dean.