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Renewed Interest in Apprenticeships

In June, President Trump signed an executive order aimed at expanding apprenticeships and reforming ineffective education and workforce development programs.

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The executive order defines an apprenticeship as “an arrangement that includes a paid-work component and an educational or instructional component, wherein an individual obtains workplace-relevant knowledge and skills.”

Rooted in History

The order may be new, but the concept, as well as formal programs, are centuries old. What’s more, many countries have government regulated and supported apprenticeship programs, based on a tradition of previous programs.

In the United States, the government first attempted to regulate apprenticeship programs in 1917, with attention to farm workers. In the 1930s, additional laws were passed that impacted apprenticeships, most notably the National Apprenticeship Act, also known as the Fitzgerald Act, which established standards.

Fast forward to recent years, when in the aftermath of the Great Recession, the Obama administration invested in apprenticeships in an effort to encourage job training and employment opportunities. From 2014 to 2016, the number of American apprentices increased by approximately 33 percent. In 2016, President Obama then signed into law the first-ever annual funding for apprenticeships.

President Trump now wants to expand on recent success. Expansion, as outlined in the executive order, includes funding to promote apprenticeships.

Learn and Earn

This could turn out to be an important component, as U.S. employers tend to focus on internships, especially college internships.

According to Steven Rothberg, president and founder of College Recruiter, a job site for college students and recent grads, approximately 75 percent of the more than 21 million post-secondary students graduate with at least one internship. This equates to 15.75 million internships.

By contrast, there were 505,371 registered apprentices at the end of 2016.

Be that as it may, not every job requires a college education, and apprenticeships also offer a way for people to learn and earn. At the same time, apprenticeships may help address the worker shortage many companies face.

Skills Development

Not everyone sees apprenticeships as the answer to the skills gap, however.

A recent article in The New York Times, for example, points out how apprenticeships may help people start on a career path but notes that college degrees are often required for moving further along the path. Meanwhile, employers have mid-level vacancies to fill.

Others see apprenticeships as short-term solutions, arguing that the training prepares people for today’s tasks but doesn’t take the long view, particularly with regard to changing technology. Critics of apprentice programs also point to soft skills acquired in connection with a college education that are necessary for long-term success in the workplace.

Various Industries

Still, in certain fields, particularly the skilled trades, apprenticeships have allowed employers to fill open positions and grow a workforce, while providing job opportunities for hundreds of thousands of Americans.

The Wall Street Journal reports that of more than 8,000 active apprenticeship programs registered with the U.S. Department of Labor almost half are in the construction industry. And indeed, among the Labor Department’s top 30 apprentice occupations for 2016, many, although not all, are construction workers.

Apprentices hold a range of positions in various industries. Among the other occupations in the top 30 are tractor-trailer drivers, cooks, and pharmacy technicians.

Paula Paula Santonocito, Contributing Editor for Recruiting Daily Advisor, is a business journalist specializing in employment issues. She is the author of more than 1,000 articles on a wide range of human resource and career topics, with an emphasis on recruiting and hiring. Her articles have been featured in many global and domestic publications and information outlets, referenced in academic and legal publications as well as books, and translated into several languages.
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