Positioning Apprenticeships as a Top Career Path

By: Tom DeRoche​

In a recent conversation, AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka suggested that the American labor movement, second only to the military, has provided the majority of skills training and adult education in the United States and with positive results.

Those who work with Apprenti​ceship and Training Programs​ know that their graduates have lower rates of absence, better safety records and higher industry/employer loyalty. I frequently hear from our members that graduates of apprenticeship programs also tend to experience lower unemployment, lower debt and similar lifetime earnings to college graduates.

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The success of these programs is rooted in an experiential learning model that combines hands-on learning, support through mentoring, and on-the-job training. Yet, apprenticeship progra​ms still struggle​. In part, this is because our secondary educational model is not generally set up to be a feeder to these successful programs.

[Related: Benefit Bits Video—Dr. Robert B. Schwartz, Ph.D. on Youth Apprenticeships]

As the economy has struggled in recent years, many college graduates have found themselves either unemployed or underemployed. For at least some of these graduates, exposure to alternative paths might have yielded a different outcome.

Several initiatives could expand apprenticeship programs and ultimately produce a more employable skilled labor force:

  • Implement career planning and exploration into our school systems at a young age
  • Recognize that not every child should be college-bound
  • Level the playing field so that college prep is not the only supported path in high school
  • Improve instructor training at all levels
  • Integrate technology tools to enhance learning
  • Encourage partnerships between schools and businesses to incorporate real-life learning experiences. 

I am not, in any way, suggesting that there is no value to a traditional college degree. I happen to have one that has afforded me many opportunities. What I am saying is that the world has changed and our educational focus needs to meet the demands of the workforce.

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