My last blog discussed the difficulty many firms are facing in today’s tight labor market. Industries such as manufacturing and construction offer lots of “middle skills” jobs – those that require training and education beyond a high school diploma, but less than a college degree. Unfortunately, qualified applicants to fill these positions have become scarce.
Oddly, these two hard-hit industries long ago developed a platform for training qualified workers for these types of jobs. Apprenticeships offer a profitable way for eager workers and talent-starved companies to both get what they need. While not as widespread in the United States as they are in Europe, apprenticeships have expanded to include technical, medical, administrative, and other high-demand occupations.
Apprenticeships are making a comeback because secondary schools too often focus on college preparation courses. Many students intent on starting their careers immediately after high school without incurring burdensome college loans are left with insufficient real-world skills and little understanding of how to hold down a job. Apprenticeships bridge the gap between the student world and the professional world. Teachers deliver “related instruction” – the math, writing, analysis, and other academic acumen needed to perform in the office or in the field. At the same time, foremen or other seasoned industry pros train apprentices in on-the-job skills they will use in their chosen professions.
The benefits accruing to young workers entering apprenticeship programs are obvious:
They prepare for high-demand occupations, virtually guaranteeing themselves a job after they complete the program.
They complete actual projects – not lab work or simulations – where their work makes a real difference.
They start earning money immediately, rather than paying tens of thousands of dollars and delaying their careers while in college.
But companies that implement or participate in apprenticeship programs benefit as well. In the short term, apprentices help fill the void created by the constricted labor market. In the long run, they fill the pipeline of career-minded workers who are dedicated and serious about obtaining the skills that will help them progress from entry-level to more senior roles in the firm. Using apprentices gives a firm the first chance at hiring productive workers who are already familiar with the company’s culture, procedures, and expectations.
Companies experiencing difficulty filling entry level positions should consider joining an apprenticeship program or starting their own. Start by considering the areas apprentices could contribute and what skills you can teach them that would put them on track for a higher-level position in your firm when they complete their apprenticeships.
Expanding apprenticeship programs in the U.S. is a win-win for American businesses and labor. Unlike traditional schooling, they teach practical and marketable skills that learner/workers can put into action immediately. When apprentices see how knowledge and abilities translate to something tangible, they internalize the process and want to learn more. Employers who build apprenticeship programs and retain their graduates create a rich source of dedicated workers possessing not only the relevant skills to do their jobs, but insight into the company and processes that makes them more efficient, productive, and willing.