How do you think President Trump’s new interest in apprenticeships might impact this work?
It’s hard to tell. It doesn’t look like there will be any new money from the federal government to help implement his ambitious goal of a ten-fold increase in apprenticeships. I also think there’s still the challenge of showing people what we mean by “apprenticeship.” In the United States, the average apprentice is 28 and until recently was mostly disconnected from the education system. The good news is that apprenticeships have been expanding into white collar occupations, and are increasingly connected to community and technical colleges. But we only have about 500,000 apprentices in the U.S. That’s a tiny fraction of the workforce. The President says that we’re going to grow that number to 5 million, but I don’t think he has any strategy to back that up.
I will say that, thanks largely to President Obama’s advocacy, there is now more traction around the career pathways agenda — more interest in apprenticeship, more support for community colleges, and more recognition that we need to provide more options and choices for young people.
Switzerland and Germany have large-scale, successful career pathway systems. How have these countries been able to implement these programs? Why will it be difficult for the United States to create similar ones?
In many European countries, companies aren’t sitting back and then wringing their hands when kids want jobs but don’t have the necessary skills. Instead, employers get in at the front end. They define the standards, they help shape the programs, and most importantly, they provide paid internships or apprenticeships. U.S. employers don’t invest much in training for anybody except their managers and executives.
Some of it also is tradition. In Switzerland, 70 percent of kids, including 45 percent of the highest achievers, spend their last three years of high school doing a mix of classroom work and applied learning in the workplace. That’s just not the case in American schools, and it’s difficult to see that shift happening.
And mindsets are important. In the United States, most middle-class families believe that the only successful outcome for their kids is to go to a four-year college or university. Although only 60 percent of kids actually complete their degree within six years, it’s still a challenge to convince those kids’ parents that there are other routes to professional success.