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The United States and our American sensibilities are at an interesting point in time, considering apprenticeship.

We have written articles over the years about the history of apprenticeship, the changes to U.S.manufacturing in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, and the “American” decision to eschew apprenticeship for mass production. It was easier and cheaper in the late nineteenth century to simply replace a man rather than spend time and money training him. If candidates stood fifty deep for any one factory job, just replace and move on.

It’s one way of doing things. We did produce more goods- faster- cheaper. We did surge ahead as world economy leaders. But, at what cost?

Like so many things in life, we often don’t realize the possible flaws in our plans until we get far enough down the road that they are nipping at our heels.

Well, check your heels. Labor shortages in many industries- not just the trades- are nipping away at U.S. business. Here’s an interesting observation from a May 2019 article on thenextweb.com; the observations by Jennifer Taylor regard the tech industries. Her facts reflect the challenges all industries face in finding and training people.

“An exciting trend is emerging in the US workforce: over half a million workers are using apprenticeships to acquire valuable experience and a pathway to a steady job. They’re earning money while learning critical, in-demand skills.

In spite of this progress, a stigma remains. For generations, common wisdom has held that a college degree is the best path to professional success; apprenticeships have been considered a second-class option for less-desirable, blue-collar jobs.

As teachers, workers, employers, and students, we must change that narrative and embrace apprenticeships as the path to the new-collar – or specialized skills-based – jobs of the future, such as software engineers, data analysts, and registered nurses, to name a few.

This isn’t an idealistic pitch for a shift in educational policy; the reality is our country has a concrete, demonstrable need for tech works. The tech industry is projected to generate eight million new jobs by 2023 – jobs for which our current university graduates are often woefully unprepared. Code.org reports there are more than 500,000 open computer science jobs, but only 63,744 students graduated with computer science degrees last year.

This massive shortfall has led companies to open their doors and drop requirements in hopes of enticing new talent. Global tech leaders including IBM, Google, and Apple no longer require employees to hold a minimum of a four-year degree. Instead, the companies offer on-the-job training for any applicant with the right combination of experience, skills and attitude.

In addition to major players such as Google and IBM, startups such as Postmates and auto companies such as Toyota and BOSCH are offering apprenticeships to train and develop the next generation of workers. The Consumer Technology Association — which I work for — is also contributing to this movement by creating the CTA Apprenticeship Coalition in partnership with IBM, designed to help our member tech companies create, build, and scale apprenticeship programs.

I believe this not only broadens the applicant pool – it diversifies it, making it easier for people with varying experiences and backgrounds to work together to develop innovative solutions. It’s an approach more companies need to adopt.

Rather than simply looking to buy talent with high salaries, competitive benefits and unique opportunities, companies must also be willing to build the talent they need in this tight labor market. This might sound radical, but companies have to train college grads anyway. Apprenticeship is a cost-effective way to tailor a workforce to the specific needs of a company.”

We agree Ms. Taylor. In a commentary written by Douglas Decker, March 2019, entitled “Student Perceptions of Higher Education and Apprenticeship Alignment”, Decker shares:

“… In a mutually beneficial relationship, the master craftsman passes along years of skill and wisdom to the younger apprentice while gaining the youthful, energetic infusion of labor from the burgeoning new learner. In the 21st century, the concept remains largely unchanged, but after years of falling by the wayside, the United States is experiencing a renaissance in the apprenticeship movement. For generations, apprenticeships were marginalized in favor of a more traditional form of classroom-based education now termed Career and Technical Education. However, with economic changes activated by a national ‘skills gap’ and a retiring Baby Boomer generation, the country faces a potential crisis if a skilled workforce is not trained quickly. With just over 500,000 participants nationally, apprenticeship pales in comparison to the 17 million students currently enrolled in higher education. Some of the fastest growing sectors of the American economy such as Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM), and healthcare, have only a few thousand apprentices each. The solution to this challenge lies with the alignment of both methodologies. ” Education Sciences

IEC Chesapeake is not an “Us VS. Them” education path. There is no THEM- there is only US- all of us. An educated workforce and populace are important to the future of American business and the overall health of our country. Every step we take, every educational opportunity we provide to place real people in real training for real jobs is a good thing for both our economy and our workforce.

White collar, blue collar “new collar”. The facts are these; the need for workforce at various levels and industries is outpacing the educated supply. Apprenticeship in all industries needs our support and cultivation.

It’s a very old idea whose time has arrived to be brought back.

Jenny Boone
Business Development, IEC Chesapeake/IECC