Germany is legendary for its apprenticeship and trade school programs in partnership with industry that confer high-level skill-sets on graduates and major earning power in manufacturing and skilled trades.
For too many years, vocational-technical training schools in the U.S. did not carry the same cachet or earning power compared to a college degree, or so the conventional wisdom went at the time.
But that’s changing.
The Trump Administration made last week a focus on Workforce Development with a series of events and an executive order that would expand these programs and offer more grants to industry. The order directs the Secretaries of Commerce and Labor to promote apprenticeships to “business leaders across critical industry sectors, including manufacturing, infrastructure, cybersecurity, and health care.”
The WSJ, in an editorial today, notes a few key details:
Nearly all apprentices receive jobs and the average starting salary is $60,000, according to the Labor Department. That beats the pay for most college majors outside of the hard sciences. Last year’s National Association of Colleges and Employers survey estimated the starting salary of education majors at $34,891 and humanities at $46,065.
Another problem is that few colleges and high schools teach vocational skills. The Labor Department Jolts survey of national job openings found more than six million in April—the most since Jolts began tracking in 2000. The vacancies include 203,000 in construction, 359,000 in manufacturing and 1.1 million in health care. These are not jobs that can be filled by Kanye West English deconstructionists. They are also typically jobs that can’t be supplanted by lower-wage foreign competition.
While employers subsidize most apprenticeships, the President has proposed spending $200 million to promote the programs. This would still be a drop in the $26 billion bucket (not including student loans) that Washington spends on higher education each year.
I have been lucky to spend some time with building trades apprenticeship programs, where apprentices are taught on traditional building skills, as well as cutting edge tech skills, such as Building Information Modeling (BIM) workstations.
Apprenticeships are also using virtual and augmented reality set-ups to train welders – a skill-set that pays well over $100,000 in salary in some markets where demand is high, such as the oil industry markets in the Southwest.
I also met many in the building trades and other sectors who have risen in their respective industries because a sharp educator steered them into vocational-technical training when they were early in their high-school educations.
A major shift in thinking is underway about next-generation training outside of the traditional four-year college degree. Expanding apprenticeships are part of the spirit of the times.