Apprenticeships on the Decline

May 1, 2014

CEOs and recruiters routinely point to a skills gap keeping companies from finding productive workers, reports the Wall Street Journal.

But despite the fact that workers trained in the precise skills needed for particular jobs are so desired by businesses, formal apprenticeship programs in the United States have fallen 40 percent from 2003 to 2013. Why?

  • The vast majority of apprenticeship programs are in the construction industry, and the blue-collar image has dissuaded young people from the opportunities.
  • Construction unions also dominate many of the state agencies with apprenticeship programs, and some businesses are wary of the union link.
  • Many students are encouraged to stay in school and then pursue a job, rather than pursue on-the-job training.
  • Some companies fear that their apprenticeship programs will evolve into nothing more than training for other companies, concerned that their workers will leave once they've acquired the necessary training.

But construction isn't the only industry with apprenticeship programs -- nursing assistants, for example, and computer-system administrators can also benefit from the training model.

According to apprenticeship proponents, college degrees and internships do not produce as high quality workers as do apprenticeships. Brad Neese, director of an apprenticeship program with the South Carolina Technical College System, says, "Interns do grunt work, generally," while "an apprenticeship is a real job."

And in practice, businesses have been able to retain their workers, with many finding that their apprenticeship programs send a message to their employees that the business is invested in their futures, and those in the programs feel a corresponding sense of loyalty.

  • South Carolina has an on-the-job training program, with the number of participating businesses having grown from 90 in 2007 to 647 today.
  • 4,700 people who have participated in the state's apprenticeship program are fully employed.
  • To encourage employers to participate, a business receives a $1,000 annual tax credit for each apprentice on the company's payroll.
  • For many small businesses, the credit is enough to cover the program's education costs.

Source: Lauren Weber, "Apprenticeships Help Close the Skills Gap. So Why Are They in Decline?" Wall Street Journal, April 27, 2014.

 

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