We often think about apprenticeship programs as being something you do for a blue collar job, which is true but Germany's apprenticeship (and the apprenticeship programs of other European countries) aren't focused exclusively on blue collar work. Teenagers often do a combined academic and practical program, where they may attend school part time and work part time.

This comes after Salesforce's Marc Benioff challenged President Trump to create 5 million apprenticeships within the next five years, and Trump replied, "Let's go for that 5 million."

Why apprenticeships?

The United States typically pushes all children towards college, even though only around 69 percent of high school graduates attend college at all, and the "6-year graduation rate was 58 percent at public institutions, 65 percent at private nonprofit institutions, and 27 percent at private for-profit institutions." This means a lot of students who we are pushing towards college won't ever graduate and they are much less likely to be participating in the workforce.

Apprenticeship programs train people for all types of jobs--blue collar and white collar--while they are still in high school. This means that if you aren't inclined towards a university education, you still can be prepared for a career.

It can also substantially lower youth unemployment. In Germany, youth unemployment in 2014 was 7.8 percent, compared to over 14 percent in the US for the same time period.

NPR highlighted some of the aspects of the German apprenticeship program, and told the story of Robin Dittmar. Dittmar loved airplanes but didn't have good enough grades to make it into a pilot training program. But, his grades were high enough to get into an apprenticeship program. NPR says:

Less-than-perfect school grades dashed Dittmar's dream of becoming a commercial pilot. But they were good enough to earn him a coveted apprenticeship slot with Lufthansa Technik, the technical arm of Europe's largest airline, responsible for aircraft maintenance and repair across the globe.

One-third of the way through his three-and-a-half years of training at Lufthansa technical headquarters in Hamburg, Dittmar is honing the skills required to become an aircraft mechanic -- and all-but-guaranteeing himself a job.

US students don't have the option to take that kind of path until after they have finished high school. German students have the option to start earlier.

What about white collar apprenticeships?

In Switzerland (where I live), global insurance company Zurich found it difficult to staff their US divisions--so they wanted to import their apprenticeship program to the United States. About 70-80 percent of Swiss students opt for an apprenticeship model, even when preparing for a white collar career. Students take academic subjects while working and come out prepared for either further education or a job.

mikeroweWORKS Foundation

A long time proponent of apprenticeships and the skilled trades, former Dirty Jobs host, Mike Rowe, started a foundation which encourages apprenticeships and hard work. Rowe recently testified before congress about the "widening skills gap" which he hopes to help alleviate through vocational training.

Internships aren't good enough

The Fair Labor Standards Act has strict rules regarding pay for internships (although many companies cheat on these laws), which keeps internship numbers down. We have a very strange system where it's legal to charge students thousands of dollars for a class that won't prepare them for a job, but we won't let them work for free in a program that will prepare them for a job. Think about that: It's okay to pay for a class, but not okay to learn something for free, if it benefits a company even a little bit.

Will these 5 million apprenticeships materialize?

Maybe, maybe not. This isn't an official White House announcement, and no bills have been submitted to congress, but the fact that people are talking about moving towards an apprenticeship model is a good thing.

Published on: Mar 18, 2017