July 28, 2015

Your Guide To Apprenticeships

By Erica R. Hendry

Apprenticeships are starting to gain traction in the U.S. But when, and how, do they work best? Before Tuesday’s show on new programs for apprentices, Robert I. Lerman, of the Urban Institute, gave us some questions to consider.

Apprenticeships play a modest role in the U.S. economy compared to most other advanced economies.   But with high college costs, high youth unemployment, and skill mismatches, expanding apprenticeship in America is an idea that’s gaining traction.  In many cases, apprenticeships can jump start the careers of workers and do so at far lower costs than purely academic programs — and employers are learning that they can quickly recoup their investments in apprenticeship training.

Still, building a large scale apprenticeship system will require educating Americans about the meaning of apprenticeship and about the resulting benefits for workers and employers.

How do apprenticeships differ from internships? 

Though internships and apprenticeships both involve work-based learning, apprenticeships provide far more depth, longer duration and occupational specialization in structured programs at the workplace.  Apprenticeships yield occupational mastery and result in a recognized credential signaling occupational competence. From the employer standpoint, apprenticeships can be more valuable because the worker stays longer with the firm.

Do apprenticeships enhance the careers of workers? 

Evidence from major studies shows workers can see large salary gains after entering and completing an apprenticeship.  In fact, the earning gains from apprenticeships appear to outpace the gains for graduates of two-year college programs and at a far lower cost to employer.

Why should firms train apprentices when other firms can hire them away after the training? 

  1. Training firms are able to recoup their investments when apprentices become skilled enough to undertake high productivity tasks.
  2. Firms can watch apprentices learning and then have high quality information (that other firms don’t) when deciding what kind of employees to retain long term.
  3. Having additional trained workers available also allows firms to expand their production quickly if demand picks up.
  4. The apprenticeship model teaches workers valuable skills that make them more employable, such as communication, teamwork, allocating time and responsibility.

How does government promote apprenticeship?

Unfortunately, the budget to oversee the nation’s apprenticeship system and to market apprenticeship to employers is tiny. If we were to spend as much as England on apprenticeship (with appropriate adjustments for the size of the U.S. work force), we would require a budget 30 times higher than today’s budget. Recently, the federal government has expanded funding and developed toolkits for accessing government funding for apprenticeship.

Where can I learn more about apprenticeship?

One great resource is the American Institute for Innovative Apprenticeship, which also has an active Facebook page.

For more, listen to our full hour on apprenticeships.


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