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.

After the auto plant closed …

PBS will air As Goes Janesville this evening.The documentary includes a profile of Cynthia Deegan, a laid-off assembly-line worker who enrolled in a Wisconsin community college to train as a medical lab technician.

When 30 factories closed near Janesville, Wisconsin, laid-off workers turned to Blackhawk Technical College for training in high-demand jobs,writes Sharon Kennedy, the college’s chief academic officer, in Community College Times.

Most hadn’t done well in high school and were nervous about returning to the classroom. Many struggled with family pressures. While some said their families complained they spent too much time on their studies, others said “their children were studying more because homework had become a family affair.”

Massachusetts report urges centralization

Massachusetts should expand statewide control of its 15 community colleges argues a new report from the influential Boston Foundation. In the centralized system focused on job training, colleges should be judged and funded based on student performance, the report concluded.

The state’s community colleges “have failed to connect in a systemic way with prospective workforce, economic development and employer partners,” reports Inside Higher Ed.

As a result there is no way to make broad curriculum changes based on workforce needs, it argues, and colleges and community-based groups compete for resources rather than cooperate.

“There are good programs within the community college system, but the system as a whole is under-resourced, overly fragmented, and not well aligned with the needs of Massachusetts employers in the knowledge economy,” said Paul S. Grogan, the foundation’s president, in a written statement.

Virginia’s centralized community college system was offered as a model for Massachusetts.

Community college presidents believe they already collaborate, reports the Boston Globe.

“We think we’re doing a hell of a lot better job than we did in the past,’’ said William Messner, president of Holyoke Community College. “We’re on the case.’’

Job training “what we do,” said Ira Rubenzahl, president of Springfield Technical Community College, who was a panelist for the report’s presentation. “We’ve been doing it for 50 years.’’  “I’m concerned that [the proposed structural changes] will be disruptive at a time when our institutions are fragile.’’

The system needs “radical change,” not “tweaking,” responded Grogan.

Next door in Connecticut, the community colleges will share a state board with the Connecticut State University System, a move that’s not popular with college officials.

“Board consolidation is a trendy idea in some states, particularly when budgets are tight,” notes Inside Higher Ed. Louisiana may merge its higher education boards. A proposal in  Rhode Island would create a single K-12 and higher education board.

Decentralization is on the table in other states, such as Wisconsin, which may separate its flagship university from the rest of the state university system.

Wisconsin CCs plan liberal arts BA

Wisconsin community colleges want to offer a bachelor’s degree in “applied” liberal arts, reports Inside Higher Ed. Some two-year colleges now offer a  four-year technical degree; the Bachelor of Applied Arts and Sciences degree is a first for community colleges, though some four-year schools offer a BAAS.

If approved by the Legislature, Wisconsin’s BAAS would include “applied studies” requirements, such as “classes in global awareness and cognitive problem solving, internships and service-learning projects,” reports Inside Higher Ed. Students would select a concentration, such as business or information technology.

So far, the Universities of Wisconsin at La Crosse, Platteville, Stevens Point, Stout, Superior and Whitewater – comprehensive four-year institutions – have all agreed to offer upper division courses either on-site at the two-year campuses or online to students seeking the new degree. The degrees, however, would be awarded by the two-year campuses.

Demand is expected to be highest in rural areas of the state, where relatively  few adults have earned college degrees.

“Built from the ground up” with industry input, the BAAS “is designed to make sure that adult students would emerge with a solid set of communications skills, great writing, oral skills, and then a great set of critical thinking skills,” said David Wilson, chancellor of the University of Wisconsin Colleges and Extension.