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Can Apprenticeship Programs Solve Unemployment?

April 28, 2015
87% of apprentices are employed after completing their programs and the average starting wage for apprenticeship graduates is over $50,000.

Apprenticeship programs have a good track record. The White House notes that 87% of apprentices are employed after completing their programs and the average starting wage for apprenticeship graduates is over $50,000.

This is one of the reasons that on April 16 the White Houseannounced that $100 million will go toward apprenticeships in high-growth industries.  “Hands-on apprenticeships are one of the clearest paths to a good, secure middle class job,” the White House said.

John Ladd, director of the Department of Labor's Office of Apprenticeship told the WSJ that this structure is a ‘great model for transferring skills from one generation to the next."

The program, American Apprenticeship Grants competition, offers $100 million in existing H-1B funds to reward partnerships that help more workers participate in apprenticeships.  The program, which will  be launched in the fall, will focus on partnerships between employers, labor organizations, training providers, community colleges, local and state governments, the workforce system and non-profits.

The government needs only to look to manufacturing to see a model that is working. Perhaps the largest user of these programs is Bosch. In March 2013 the company reported that more than 6,500 young people around the world are in occupational training programs at their facilities, roughly 4,500 of them in Germany. And in Germany each year, the company receives more than 20,000 applications for its 1,500 training spots. The company says its model has been implemented in more than 20 countries, and interest in such programs is on the rise.

(IndustryWeek looked into the Bosch’s program.)

Siemens also an apprentice program at its Charlotte Energy Hub in North Carolina and toldBloomberg News that this was due to “a shortfall of adequately qualified workers which made it difficult to staff this factory. "

“This is really helping to fill the skills gap that we’ve seen,” Siemens’ head of U.S. operations Eric Spiegel said in an interview with Bloomberg Television. “We’ve also worked closely with one of the local universities to develop our engineers who can help us in our gas plant.”

Another company that uses apprenticeship programs is Schott North America, the Elmsford, N.Y.-based maker of special glass and glass systems. In 2012 it announced the launch of its pilot U.S. apprenticeship program at its Duryea, Pa., production facility. There, apprentices are training in one of three trades – glass operator generalist, mason-metalsmith and maintenance machinist. The programs span two or three years, depending on the trade. Upon completion of 4/000/6000 on the job training hours and at least 288 classroom hours all apprentices will be certified through the United States Department of Labor.

Even with the success of these programs, the trend in offering apprenticeship programs is moving downward. The number of formal programs that combine on-the-job learning with mentorships and classroom education fell 40% in the U.S. between 2003 and 2013, according to Lauren Weber, in an article in the WSJ.

The U.S. government acknowledges the problem as well.” Across the country, there are pockets of excellence in apprenticeship, but all too often these successful models are unknown in other regions or to other employers,” the White House said. “These grants will build from strength and invest in innovations and strategies to scale apprenticeships – including to market the value of apprenticeships, make them more attractive to women and other Americans who have been underrepresented, increase the return on investment for workers and, or build national and regional partnerships to expand apprenticeships.”