How Apprenticeship Programs Boost Graduates AND The Economy

When you sort through the presidential election campaign rhetoric from this past year, you learn that there are really a number of bad ideas or no ideas. But just as I was thinking about that, I read a December 1, 2016 NY Times article, “What Trump Might Do For Working-Class Families,” which includes a section on “Apprenticeships.” That is what I want to talk about today.

Apprenticeships…an interesting idea and these days, maybe a necessity

Apprenticeships? A captivating idea that I have been advocating as I write my blogs on higher education…what works and what doesn’t. And I think I have been consistent in saying that training young people through apprentice programs, even at the college level, is something that needs to be considered and put into practice much more these days.

You see, good enough today just isn’t good enough! A number of higher education institutions are preparing kids for a world that doesn’t exist anymore. But having said that, I want to be careful not to take anything away from liberal arts. (My degree was in political science but I went on to get an MBA.)

In today’s technically complex world, a lot of students are not prepared for a complicated entry level job. The net effect is that they end up with minimum wages, live at home, have substantial college debt to pay off and can’t afford to marry. Not good for our society and certainly not good for our economy!

Teaching people skills ends up helping the whole economy

After reading the NY Times article, I re-read it a second time. Stating that Mr. Trump intends to create 25 million jobs over the next decade, it goes on to explain that “one route toward that goal is apprenticeships” (funny, since Trump’s TV show was “The Apprentice”). These apprenticeships, The Times states, are a way “for people to acquire vocational skills while earning money, as opposed to attending college and building debt. Not only would they address unemployment among people without college degrees (or college degrees that don’t prepare you for life), … they would lead to more stable families.” When job opportunities are plentiful, the article says, people are more likely to marry before having their first child. 

The Times then points out that apprentice programs are currently being used in the construction industry and could also be effective in generating qualified entry level jobs for the healthcare and information technology industries. And if you follow trends, supporting people at the intersection of education, vocational training and the job market is an important goal in keeping our economy moving.

Robert I. Lerman, a fellow at the Urban Institute, is quoted as saying, “People want to have earnings, they want to have dignity, they want to show that they’ve been able to master a certain profession, and that gives them a kind of identity.” Apprenticeships, he says, “have both a social as well as an economic dimension.”

Let’s execute on a good idea

So if this idea makes sense (and I believe it does), why has it taken so long to percolate and who is going to take the bull by the horns?

A classical liberal arts education makes sense for a lot of people who want to go to a graduate trade school (medical, business, law, etc.). But what about all those who graduate and are equipped for not much at all?

Perhaps it is time for some of these liberal arts institutions to rethink what they do. To be pre-emptive in the marketplace. To figure out what they do best and make a shift so that students are trained for, and steered toward, an apprenticeship program. Or how about providing programs that teach both liberal arts and provide apprenticeship services at the same time. Not so difficult to execute, maybe, and very worthwhile. And a major step, I believe, in getting our graduates working and our economy moving.

Check out our additional blogs on higher ed

At Simon Associates Management Consultants, we have written several blogs on the state of higher ed today and how it should be doing more to better prepare its students for well-paying jobs. Check them out by clicking on the red bar below. And let us know your thoughts and insights in this area by going to the Contact Us page on our website.



Andy Simon, Partner
Simon Associates Management Consultants  

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