The US has found itself in a similar situation to the UK: there are lots of vacancies available but they are unfilled and the unemployment figures are high because there is a skill shortage. And like the UK, President Trump and his government have determined that improving the apprenticeship situation is the way forward.
In 2017, President Trump signed an Executive Order to create a task force whose primary directive was to promote apprenticeships, and to evaluate the current training programs and consolidate them. It is an initiative to foster developing partnerships between companies and educational institutions like the community colleges in order to give as wide a range of people access to further education and apprenticeships in order to fix the skills gap. Funds have been allocated from the Department of Labour’s budget, and with the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, there is little excuse for companies and employers not to encourage training through apprenticeships.
This year, McDonald’s has announced that the money it has saved because of the act will be put into its apprenticeship programme, allowing almost 400,000 employees to have access to it, as well as extending some educational benefits to their families. The hope is that other companies will follow its example.
One of the issues is that apprenticeships are still as seen as secondary to going to college and gaining a degree, with many quoting figures about how much more you will earn over a working lifetime with a bachelor’s degree. Yet 90% of those completing an apprenticeship are gainfully employed by its completion, which the majority of college graduates cannot claim.
I’m sure many of the American employers will have similar complaints to the British ones, especially where graduates are lacking skills, including interpersonal and communication skills, or the high levels of experience needed to be able to transition easily into the workplace. Meaning the bachelors degree is not the guarantee for career eligibility that it should be.
Apprenticeships should be of equal value to degrees, if not higher, because their learners are gaining true practical, technical and life skills and experience, as well as much of the theoretical knowledge which they will have had more opportunity to test in real life situations. This is imperative for jobs and careers requiring such skills, such as those in construction or healthcare.
For the President’s Executive Order to be successful and the skills gap to shorten, there needs to be some changes effected to improve the situation for everyone.
The first battle will be to tackle the idea that apprenticeships are somehow of a lower status than a degree. The majority of jobs and careers has a skills element which can only really be gained through practice. An apprenticeship offers its students the time to develop their skills while learning the theory and improving their knowledge overall. This should make apprenticeships of equal standing. Those studying apprenticeships are not less capable or less intelligent than those heading off to college to gain a degree, and neither are the careers which apprenticeships are most suitable for somehow less than those where a degree is needed. The stigma and stereotypes around apprenticeships need to be eradicated.
Employers also need to be encouraged to work with the education institutions to offer more apprenticeships. There may need to be more incentives or at least more targeted promotion for them to up their current offerings. It should be highlighted how advantageous it is to ‘grow their own talent’, not only through school leavers looking to train for their first career, but also those wishing to retrain in a different career, and those already employed who wish to access further promotions and ‘upskill’ their current talents. The benefits of offering a high level of in-house apprenticeships and working with educational institutes to create training programmes which work best for them should be clear to see. The government’s job is to ensure that they have the backing, financial and other, to do this.
Then, the true promotion and marketing of the apprenticeship scheme can begin. Schools, career advisors, parents and students need to be armed with the information, the pros and cons, for both the traditional college and the apprenticeship routes. Only with all the information, impartial information, will students be able to make balanced and informed decisions about which is the right path for them. The opportunities also need to be advertised for those already employed or more recently unemployed, who may wish to change their career or gain more skills. The apprenticeship scheme should be available for all.
Another possible way to fix the skills gap and increase the uptake and offering of apprenticeships, is to incorporate the benefits and status of a degree with the practical benefits of an apprenticeship. The UK is finding that their new degree apprenticeships are leading to graduates, young and old, who have the theoretical knowledge and skills gained through studying at college, with the technical skills and experience gained through real, on-the-job training, including those much needed interpersonal and transferable skills.
In conclusion, yes, apprenticeships could be the way to fix the skills gap and fill the 6m vacancies but only if the government, employers large and small, and educational institutions work together to promote them, develop them and support the students completing them.
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