Changing technology, growing skills mismatches and weak wage growth are drawing attention to the need for more sophisticated, more relevant career and technical skills, especially for workers who lack a four-year college degree. Among the most effective ways to raise skill levels and prepare workers for rewarding careers is with apprenticeships that combine classroom learning and paid on-the-job experience, teaching skills in demand across an industry. Yet it has proven surprisingly difficult to scale apprenticeship in the United States.
In 2018, just three-tenths of one percent of US workers were enrolled in civilian apprenticeship programs—about 450,000 apprentices, compared to nearly 20 million students in degree-granting postsecondary institutions.
President Donald Trump aims to dramatically increase this number by encouraging industry groups to develop and oversee programs, including in sectors that have not traditionally relied on apprenticeship training.
In doing so, he will tap into a long American tradition of employer-sponsored, apprenticeship-like training that is not registered with state or federal agencies.
What evidence we have points to a vast, varied terrain of independent, employer-sponsored apprenticeship.
Newly available government data suggests that as many Americans working today may have come up through independent earn-and-learn training as through registered apprenticeships. Like registered programs, independent offerings appear to be common in the construction trades, but also in an array of other industries. Some are fostered and supported by national industry associations; others arise spontaneously, at the initiative of an enterprising employer.
Yet little is known about these programs—how wide-spread they are, how effective or whether and how they maintain quality standards absent regulation by the government.
This study begins to address that gap.
We mine newly available data from the US Department of Education’s 2016 Adult Training and Education Survey (ATES) on nondegree credentials and work-experience programs for adults—data that suggests independent earn-and-learning may be considerably more widespread than previously understood.
We draw on a half-day convening of some 20 employers and employer association executives with firsthand knowledge of scores of independent programs and the employer-developed skills standards on which they are based.
We have compiled four intensive case studies of quality unregistered apprenticeship programs in industries where we believe the approach may be particularly prevalent: construction, advanced manufacturing, health care and automotive maintenance and repair.
The paper also addresses policy, building on our empirical ndings and lessons from other countries with robust apprenticeship systems to re ect on the Trump administration’s initiative to scale what it calls “industry-recognized apprenticeship programs” (IRAPs).
Our five principal policy recommendations:
A true alternative. Few countries have succeeded in growing apprenticeship nationwide without establishing it as a reputable and effective “brand” —a true alternative to university, appealing to talented young people and as if not more likely than traditional academic education to lead to a respected, well-paying job.
Some countries, such as Germany, have long- established apprenticeship brands. England created one over the past decade. National funding spurred a dramatic expansion of apprenticeship opportunities, and the resulting programs catapulted thousands of trainees to better jobs with better pay.
The US too should work to create a brand recognizable and respected by employers and aspiring young people—call it “American Apprenticeship.”
Skills standards. Equipping workers with skills in demand across an industry requires standardized occupational frameworks—curriculum to structure both classroom instruction and on-the-job training.
Ready-made standards can greatly reduce the complexity of starting a new program. But developing frameworks is costly and time-consuming.
Some countries rely on a highly centralized approach that looks to government or a single public-private agency to craft standards. An alternative increasingly popular in the US—and aligned with the administration’s vision—relies on independent industry groups that draw on input from employers across the sectors they serve.
We propose to combine these approaches in a two-track system that allocates modest funding for industry-based certifiers and for a centralized standards institute. We recommend experimenting with both approaches and, in time, evaluating their effectiveness.
Government funding. The US cannot hope to build a respected apprenticeship brand or expand it on the scale that’s needed without funding. Employers and employer associations must play a part, developing training programs, structuring on-the-job learning, training trainers and paying apprentices’ wages. But there is also a role for government.
Several states have tried using tax credits to incentivize employers to offer programs, and Congress has considered adopting a similar approach.
Another option: in many countries with robust apprenticeship systems, public and private sectors split the cost. Employers provide on-the-job training and pay apprentices’ wages, while government foots the bill for off-job instruction, whether at a college, a nonpro t organization, a for-pro t entity or an em- ployer-sponsored training center.
We recommend that government pay for the off-job component of registered and unregistered apprenticeship programs, and we propose financing this subsidy with public funds currently devoted to less effective forms of workforce education and training.
Marketing. Encouraging companies to develop new training programs and hire apprentices is not easy. Most employers have little knowledge of appren- ticeship. Few top executives focus on how their rm handles human resources. Unless funding for off-job training is linked with substantially improved efforts to sell and organize apprenticeships, take-up by employers is likely to be limited.
Among the best ways to fill this gap is with a third-party “intermediary” that works to persuade employers of the bene ts of apprenticeship, then collaborates with the rm to organize a training program. Many different kinds of organizations play this role: nonpro t groups, private training companies, industry associations, community colleges and state agencies, among others.
Policymakers—state and federal—should encourage industry groups and other organizations to take on the job by providing nancial incentives.
Outcomes metrics. As with any brand, the success of American Apprenticeship will depend on its reputation for quality.
Employers, educators, students and policymakers will expect programs to build skills of value in the mar- ketplace. And only programs that meet this exacting standard should expect government subsidies. The question for policy: how to assess quality?
One possible approach relies on end-of-program student assessments administered by third parties— state agencies, industry associations or approved accrediting bodies. Another option is to measure employment outcomes—post-program, training- related job placement and wage gains.
Few registered apprenticeship programs guarantee quality with either end-of-program assessments or employment metrics. And few countries have experience using performance indicators to assess company-run programs, particularly smaller programs. This is an area where there is more work to be done. We cannot ask taxpayers to pay for expanding apprenticeship without effective quality assurance.
Chosen excerpts by Job Market Monitor. Read the whole story at Industry-Driven Apprenticeship: What Works, What’s Needed | Center for Apprenticeship & Work-Based Learning