Apprenticeships offer a cost-effective solution to several critical problems facing the U.S. right now:
- high youth unemployment;
- skills mismatches;
- weak educational outcomes;
- inequality; and
- the rising cost of college.
As the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) recently pointed out:
“Workplaces provide a strong learning environment, developing hard skills on modern equipment, and soft skills through real world experience of teamwork, communication and negotiation; workplace training facilitates recruitment by allowing employers and potential employees to get to know each other, while trainees contribute to the output of the training firm. Workplace learning opportunities are also a direct expression of employer needs, as employers will be keenest to offer those opportunities in areas of skills shortage. Apprenticeship – one common model of workplace training – can be an outstandingly effective form of vocational training.”
An apprenticeship system can:
- increase youth employment;
- improve the match between skills and jobs;
- diversify routes to rewarding careers;
- lower inequality; and
- enhance skills and productivity.
Apprenticeship programs are good for employers, who need well-trained workers, and for the workers themselves, who need to upgrade their skills without breaking the bank. An apprentice earns wages while doing productive work, getting on-the-job training and taking courses over a 1-4 year period. At the end of that time, workers have solid job experience and a recognized industry credential.
Workers also feel a strong sense of pride when they complete the program.
Historically, the U.S. has not strongly supported apprenticeship programs, in either the public or private sector. There is evidence, however, that they are in demand.
In South Carolina, the number of registered apprenticeship programs in the state grew by 494% and the number of apprentices by 308% after the state created “Apprenticeship Carolina” in response to the business community’s call for a more highly skilled labor force.
Those results indicate a strong demand from both employers and job-seekers for the structured, on-the-job training that apprenticeship programs provide.
Many countries have apprenticeship systems. The main components of an apprenticeship system are:
- Formal agreements between the apprentice and their employer;
- A recognized program that includes both work-based and classroom learning;
- A wage schedule with pay increases over the apprenticeship period;
- Direct participation in the company production process;
- Interaction with a trainer or mentor; and
- Occupational mastery certified by an external body.
Apprenticeship is not the same as technical vocational education and training (TVET). The latter, set in vocational schools, offers courses and enrolls students based on available teachers and budgets. These considerations are not directly tied to the labor market.
In contrast, apprenticeship slots arise only when employers create them. Employers invest their own money where they see the most need. Apprenticeship systems are therefore more closely tied to labor market demand than TVET systems.
For a comparison of apprenticeship systems across selected countries, see:
Overview of Apprenticeship Systems and Issues, Steedman Hilary, International Labor Office, November 2012.
Towards A Model Apprenticeship Framework: A Comparative Analysis of National Apprenticeship Systems, Smith, Erica and Ros Brennan Kemmis., et al. International Labor Office, 2013.
District of Columbia Public School System – Youth Apprenticeship Program, Ault, Mindy et al. American University Master’s program report, Washington, D.C., September 2014.
For more information on apprenticeship systems in other countries, see the Library.