If you haven’t been paying attention, the cost of college has been skyrocketing for some time now. Combine that with a skills gap between employers and employees, and you see why many think apprenticeships in America need more attention. Based on our research, the average cost of college for in-state students is $20,235, and out-of-state is $23,307. Given these large figures, other options like apprenticeships are going to be a critical part of education and workforce training.
But while apprenticeship programs are on the rise, they still battle a cultural stigma versus a traditional college. For some reason, college is the default answer when you ask a parent what they think is best for their child after high school. That answer remains regardless of the high levels of debt college students are incurring. Coupled with salaries often lower than needed to repay this debt effectively.
Given this fact, educational opportunities like apprenticeships need to become a larger percentage of the post-secondary education chosen by our youth. These programs will allow people to gain the skills needed to work in high paying industries and fields without incurring large amounts of debt.
How do Apprenticeships Work
Apprenticeships are programs driven by industries and employers, allowing people to work while they learn a skill or trade. These programs typically last between one and four years and are a pathway to highly skilled well-paying jobs.
There are two types of apprenticeship programs that employers can offer:
- Industry-Recognized Apprenticeship Programs – According to Apprenticeship.gov, this is a “customizable model of apprenticeship that has been validated by a proven industry accreditor.” The components of these programs include paid work, work-based learning, mentorship, education and instruction, and industry credentials.
- Registered Apprenticeship Programs – This is a “proven model of apprenticeship that has been validated by the U.S. Department of Labor or a State Apprenticeship Agency. The components of these programs include business involvement, structured on-the-job training, instruction, rewards for skills gain, and national occupational credential.
The Current State of Apprenticeships
Apprenticeships in America have been growing at a steady pace in the last few years. Based on numbers from the U.S. Department of Labor, 585,000 people are training as apprentices as of 2018. That is more than 50% growth from 375,000 apprentices in 2013.
While these numbers are promising, the overall figures are still minuscule when it compares to other college enrollment numbers. Consider that in 2017, 16.8 million people enrolled in degree-granting post-secondary institutions, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. That’s compared to the 238,000 individuals who entered apprenticeship programs. A staggering 70 times the number of people entering college compared to those entering apprenticeships.
Apprenticeship programs like those for electricians and plumbers also equal competitive salaries. The median salary for a plumber is $49,000 with the upper 10% earning close to $100,000 per year. And if you have the thought to start your own business in one of these trades, the sky is the limit.
Changing the Cultural Norm
One of the largest challenges in growing apprenticeships in America is changing the cultural norm. For so long college has been considered the gold standard for a successful career path. So much so that people are willing to take on ridiculous amounts of debt to get a degree offering only mediocre job prospects.
The change in thinking needs to start with parents of middle and upper-class families. Often these parents understand the benefit of apprenticeship programs and are wholly supportive of other children entering them. But because of this cultural norm, they are hesitant to direct their own child to these types of opportunities.
We also need more industries to start apprenticeship programs and have employers embrace them. While apprenticeship programs are well established in the construction, manufacturing, and utility industries, others like IT, finance, and insurance are not as well represented. These are some of the high paying industries that can help shift the educational norm. By allowing people job opportunities in these industries without incurring major debt, we can make a significant impact on millions of young people’s lives.
Expansion of Apprenticeship Programs
Expanding the current apprenticeship infrastructure in America will take time and buy-in from many partners.
This is one area where there has been bi-partisan support in government. Both sides of the aisle realize that apprenticeships are important for the future of education. The Obama administration allocated $250 million and Trump an additional $200 million towards the growth of apprenticeships.
Partnerships with other educational institutions is another way apprenticeship can grow. Some success with this has already been seen in partnerships with community colleges. These community colleges already award by-far the most certificates and associate’s degrees in the country. By partnering with employers and apprenticeship programs, this can be a win-win for all parties involved.
Apprenticeships in Other Countries
In countries like Germany and Switzerland, the number of people in apprenticeships exceeds 60 and 70 percent respectively. They also have a much more diverse number of industries with robust programs. Those include IT, banking, advanced manufacturing, and other high paying industries according to the Atlantic.
Not only do the numbers in these countries far out-pace the U.S., but the type of education is different as well. Workers training in Germany can expect a more diverse type of training program as they realize certain types of jobs will become obsolete as technology increases. These countries are breeding managers, leaders, and thinkers through apprenticeships.
The Risk of Apprenticeships in America
America has typically used apprenticeships to train workers in a narrow field of study. When that industry or trade is hit with a downturn, it can be problematic. With no other skills to market themselves, these people can find it difficult to find work in other sectors.
This is one challenge apprenticeship programs have faced and is evidenced by a downturn in enrollment during recessionary periods.
By treating our apprenticeship programs more like the German model, we can mitigate some of that risk for potential candidates. We need to teach them relevant skills such as management and problem solving that are relevant across all industries. By proving that graduates have more than just deep skills in one area, we can create practical educational opportunities that provide the most economical and flexible opportunities for people.
Apprenticeships Aren’t a Replacement for Everything
Let’s not forget that apprenticeships are not a replacement for many different professions that require a college education. Advanced engineering, medical, and business degrees naturally will take more education. For those who are extremely passionate about a particular subject, and are committed to a doctorate, for instance, college is your route.
There are many of these scenarios, and many other benefits to attribute with traditional college. But if your child hasn’t shown a great desire for college, remaining open to other options is critical. One of the most difficult scenarios to recover from is a child who goes to college, accumulates debt, and drops out.
That’s a reality for many as the graduation rate for those entering traditional four-year college was only 60% after six years in 2010.
The Bottom Line
Apprenticeships in America have a lot of potential to help transform a broken educational system. It makes all the sense in the world to have people learning real-life skills while doing real-life work. Earning money and avoiding debt are just a couple of the many major benefits.
While many hurdles remain before significant change can occur, the first is to change the cultural norm of college at all cost. The current college-educated adults in this country must buy into the thought of there being more than one trajectory for children to succeed.
If we can overcome this reality, and increase the demand for such programs, basic economics tells us that supply will increase. Traditional college is a necessary part of the ecosystem and certainly required for some professions. It’s critical that we identify those where apprenticeships can fill the need, and get workers earning money in less time with less debt.