Apprenticeship’s Learning That Works – Producing career ready professionals with employable skills

America’s students are told by their parents and career counselors they need to go to college to get ahead. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the economy will create millions of new-collar careers and only 27.1 percent will require a college degree. While some of these new collar jobs require a college education, most are "middle skill" jobs requiring a high school diploma, foundation of reading, math and science along with some additional training offered by an apprenticeship or certification program.

Why then are 63% of America’s high school graduates still enrolling in college and 53% of recent college graduates unemployed or underemployed? In other words, they spent four years or more working hard for their bachelor’s only to end up in a job they could have gotten out of high school directly or with the right employable skills without all the student loans and years of lost wages. In Germany, students have the option of taking up a vocational apprenticeship instead of choosing full-time academic education. This program is known as ‘dual studies’ or referred to as the ‘dual education/apprenticeship system’’, it is a highly regulated and well-regarded system whereby young people learn through a mix of ‘on-the-job’ training as well as in the classroom.

The German vocational education system involves students splitting their learning time between the classroom and on-the-job training. It sees small to medium-sized companies and publicly funded colleges coming together to provide an excellent, mutually beneficial, vocational education for high-school graduates. It acts as a transition between school and the workplace, with most apprentices aged between 16 and 19, although some placements are aimed at those aged 18 and above, where the apprenticeship can form part of a degree course.

There are currently 330 occupations in German that require formal training, and with its standardized training and qualifications, this system allows many students to gain the correct training before they embark on their chosen career. Around half of all school leavers go into the dual education system, which in turn means that Germany enjoys a low youth unemployment rate.

Apprenticeship for America

Apprenticeship is a proven approach for preparing workers for jobs while meeting the needs of business for a highly skilled workforce. It is an employer-driven, “learn-while-you-earn” model that combines on-the-job training, provided by the employer that hires the apprentice, with job-related instruction in curricula tied to the attainment of national skills standards.

From their first day of work, apprentices receive a paycheck that is guaranteed to increase as their training progresses. The apprentices are paid while they are in classes, unlike university students who pay to attend classes and graduate with student debt.

The apprenticeship model is leading the way in preparing American workers to compete in today’s economy. Apprenticeship programs keep pace with advancing technologies and innovations in training and human resource development through the complete involvement of employers in the educational process.

One of the nation’s premier apprenticeship programs was founded 1919 at Newport News Shipbuilding (NNS), a division of Huntington Ingalls Industries in Newport News, VA. The Apprentice School program is an industry-driven, hands-on apprenticeship college for individuals interested in pursuing a career in shipbuilding.

The Apprentice School provides a pipeline of talented, skilled leaders to support the business and drive the future of the company. The school offers four- to eight-year programs in more than 19 shipbuilding skill areas, as well as advanced programs to develop the next generation of world-class journeymen and company leaders. The German and Swiss apprenticeship systems provide many of the future leaders of most industrial companies.

The Apprentices School model is similar to that of the U.S. Naval Academy, where its graduates wind up with a higher rank than regular job recruits. And by at least one metric, it claims, it's more successful: About 82 percent of the school's graduates remain with Newport News Shipbuilding for 10 years or longer. Of 4,000 applicants, only 200 or so are admitted each year – an admissions rate that rivals Harvard and Yale.

A skilled workforce is key to reshoring and making Made in America a reality, again. The Reshoring Initiative® President, Harry Moser, explained that a national mind shift is needed from promoting education and degrees as the only means for achieving success to promoting both education and training as a pathway to high-paying new-collar careers of the future.

Pathway Forward

America’s educational system must graduate students with the critical thinking skills to adapt to the evolving challenges of new-collar careers and the ever-changing demands for the future of work. The world of work is changing. Skills, not just degrees, are becoming the new currency of the labor market.

Parents, students, employers, and guidance counselors need to stop referring to these new-collar careers as “trades and vocations.” They need to be referred to as “professions” like they do in Germany and Switzerland. These countries have benchmark workforce development and apprentice programs that pay high wages for skilled professionals with low unemployment and underemployment rates.

Apprenticeships with industry credentials are the new gold standard, adds Harry Moser. “All countries, even Germany, are having problems attracting and training skilled workforces. The U.S. will bring back from offshore millions of manufacturing jobs when its apprenticeship system goes from being a laggard to a world leader.”

To that end, schools and colleges need to work closely with local businesses to develop the needed employable skills through apprenticeships and industry-recognized credentials that are in demand by employers. These collaborative actions along with public private partnerships can provide every student with the skilled career and college ready credentials needed to achieve their own “American Dream.”

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Glenn Marshall, retired Newport News Shipbuilding Career Pathway Volunteer, now serves on the Association for Manufacturing Excellence (AME) Management Team initiative for a “Manufacturing Renaissance,” he is a member of the Reshoring Initiative, Job Creators Network, Industry Reimagined 2030. Contact

Author’s note: The Newport News Shipbuilding Apprentice School along with other leading organizations will be presenting their benchmark public private partnership on how to collaborate in closing the skills gap to graduate skilled career and college ready citizen at the AME Dallas international conference 17 through 20 October. See link to their panel discussion with other leading learning organizations:

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