U.S. Needs Apprenticeships to Bring Workers to Skilled Jobs

By Glenn Marshall

There were 6 million open jobs in the United States in April, a record high, according to data released by the Labor Department. It comes at a time when 6.8 million unemployed Americans are looking for a job. Eighty percent of manufacturing executives reported they are willing to pay more than the market rates, still six out of 10 positions remain unfilled due to the talent shortage.

To address these challenges Washington officials have turned their attention to workforce development with an emphasis on apprenticeships – programs in which people learn skills from experienced workers while getting paid.  

From the June 13 issue of Industry Week:

Economists and politicians in both parties recently have focused on promoting apprenticeships and vocational education amid concerns about raising the skills and incomes of workers without a college education. It was a pet cause of Barack Obama, with the former president announcing $175 million in apprenticeship grants to benefit 34,000 Americans last summer. Last month, the former president announced he was donating $2 million to summer job and apprenticeship programs in his hometown of Chicago.

The Trump White House is hoping that a focus on apprenticeship programs could capture the national attention -- particularly since the president became a reality television star hosting The Apprentice. ”We’re constantly hearing from CEOs that they have job openings but they don’t have workers with the skill set they need to fill those jobs,” Ivanka Trump said on June 12 during an appearance on Fox News.

This includes training for ‘new collar’ technology jobs where a traditional four-year degree is not always required. This initiative is meant to encourage apprenticeships and promote career paths that do not involve traditional four-year colleges.

Members of the Learning First Alliance and partner education groups recently learned more about the apprenticeship model and how U.S. public schools can partner with local businesses to help students apply advanced academics to real--life work at an event at the Embassy of Switzerland in Washington.

Apprenticeships can revitalize whole communities by bringing well-paying jobs to a diverse untapped talent pool. This method already has been proven successful in decreasing youth unemployment in countries with strong apprenticeship systems, like Germany and Switzerland. Nearly nine out of 10 apprentices are employed after completing their apprenticeships, with an average starting wage of more than $60,000 per year. 

It’s no secret that when U.S. manufacturing companies want to start apprenticeship programs, they often look to Europe, where the apprenticeship model is an established part of the work culture. To that end, the U.S. departments of Commerce, Labor and Education are committed to informal idea-sharing with Switzerland to collaborate on apprenticeships.

This collaboration will provide a framework for the two countries to cooperate in such areas as work-based training, curriculum development, credential recognition, pathways to career development and the expansion of programs into new industry sectors.

Switzerland vocational training system prepares students for a wide range of careers to better meet market demands. Swiss students make a career choice as early as eighth grade. At age 15 or 16, the teens begin to plan their future career. Two-thirds of Switzerland’s youth at that age do not opt for college, but for a career in a specific professional field as an apprentice.

America is not without its successful Apprenticeship programs. Newport News Shipbuilding (NNS) Apprentice School founded in 1919 is the preeminent apprenticeship program in the nation and offers four-, five-, and eight-year apprenticeships in 19 shipbuilding disciplines and eight advanced programs of study. This program offers apprentices a debt free education with the opportunity to earn college credit, receive competitive pay and benefit from learning skills leading to rewarding careers. (Learn more about Newport News Shipbuilding and apprenticeships in this LFA report).

A successful national program is ApprenticeshipUSA . It offers employers in every industry the tools to develop a highly skilled workforce to help grow their business. For workers, ApprenticeshipUSA offers opportunities to earn a salary while learning the skills necessary to succeed in high-demand careers.

Whether you are an employer looking to hire, train or retain a skilled workforce, or a worker looking for a new career in a well-paying occupation the ApprenticeshipUSA program exemplifies high standards, instructional rigor and quality training for your future.

Glenn Marshall is a retired Newport News Shipbuilding executive, board member for the Association for Manufacturing Excellence,   and Career Pathwayvolunteer. A version of this article originally appeared in the AME's publication, Target Online.

Views expressed are those of the author and do not reflect the endorsement of the Learning First Alliance or any of its members.

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NNS apprentice and instructor at machine