March 16, 2018

Apprenticeship Forward – What was old is new again…

By Joan Andrews, RTWBC

Did you know that doctors became physicians through apprenticeships until 1845?  

Or that Ben Franklin became a master printer through an apprenticeship?

… getting the idea?

At the beginning of the month, I had the distinct pleasure of attending Apprenticeship Forward, a conference hosted by the National Skills Coalition in D.C. The conference brought together business leaders championing apprenticeships, education and training providers to generate dialogue in business training and development.

There was a tremendous amount of enthusiasm and drive in every conversation I had and it is clear that what was old is new again: apprenticeships are indeed on the rise in the modern business world, and for very good reason.
Every major industry and profession – from manufacturing to IT to finance – is predicting shortages of skilled employees. There is a host of reasons contributing to this looming skills scarcity: baby boomer retirement, lack of training, lack of awareness, inexperienced school counselors, as well as a gap between employment demands and the life goals of young people entering the workforce.

But there is a solution.

Enter apprenticeships: a skills gap solution

Apprenticeships can move the needle of the growing skills gap. The U.S. has always prided itself in doing things the American way – our way. We are masters at innovation and creation, but we can also learn from what a few other countries have done to successfully address this gulf and return to the time-honored tradition of apprenticeship, which in a formal capacity dates all the way back to the Middle Ages.

Today, Germany and Sweden promote 60% and 70% of their students, respectively, through apprenticeships for career pathways that hold the same value as 4 year degrees. Both business and the wider culture recognize the value of this career pathway. In Switzerland, over 70% of students choose apprenticeships, and the youth unemployment rate is under 4%.

This direct path to a career does not devalue Bachelors or advanced degrees but allows for someone to proceed directly to a professional career for which degrees are not required. The choice to continue further education remains if one chooses to continue learning, however career-focused training and apprenticeships broaden options for those who might not require a four-year degree to reach their career goals.

The apprenticeship movement

Noel Ginsburg, CEO, Intertech Plastics, spoke with us and has seen first hand the benefits of apprenticeships. He traveled to Europe to investigate their approach for the state of Colorado.   He founded CareerWise Colorado to provide a system of youth apprenticeships across a variety of industry sectors. Modeled after the Swiss Apprenticeship System, the organization coordinates apprenticeship programs and connects employers to students engaged in these trainings.

In a brief conversation with Megan Curran, Program Manager at Werner Enterprises, I learned they have seen a tremendous improvement in retention with their registered apprenticeships. For them, there is a clear ROI.

Expanding opportunity

Legislation and funding are key drivers of the job skills and employment evolution, but the beauty of apprenticeships lies in their independence of external top-down directives.

Robert Lerman, an economist at the Urban Institute with a career-long focus on employment solutions and leading expert on apprenticeship, has a vision that apprenticeships become mainstream. In his words, “apprenticeships are a pathway out of poverty.” Apprenticeships can be an option for every job-seeker, and with the current momentum and increasing commitment we see, we at RTWBC are optimistic that apprenticeships will in fact become the norm.

It is clear that the U.S. is demanding change. People want a positive future for their kids and our economy; they want a pathway out of poverty and a pathway to economic growth in all professions and trades. Apprenticeships can be a key part of the the solution and the jobs evolution that is underway.


Ready To Work Business Collaborative, founded by a collective of Fortune 500 companies, is committed to working cooperatively to develop hiring best practices that target the long-term unemployed, under-employed, people with disabilities, military veterans, and Opportunity Youth. The RTWBC accomplishes this mission through collaboration, thought-leadership, and services that support employers who desire to serve these talent pools better.

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Ready To Work Business Collaborative works cooperatively to help employers develop hiring best practices that target the long-term unemployed, underemployed, people with disabilities, military veterans, and Opportunity Youth.

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