Monday, July 7, 2014

Expanding Apprenticeships

It's a commonplace of the education world that not all students learn the same way. Some learn by reading, some by conversation, some by writing notes. Some learn better as individuals; some do better in groups. And it's time for the U.S. to recognize that some would learn better if we got them out of the existing school system and involved in apprenticeships. Robert I. Lerman lays out the issues and possibilities in "Expanding Apprenticeship Opportunities in the United States."

What Lerman means by "apprenticeships" are a program where in the last couple of years of high school, students would apply for a program where they would complete high school, and maybe get a few college credits, while taking classes but also working about 2,000 hours (that is, the equivalent of 50 weeks of 40 hour workweeks, spread over a couple of years). Here are some of Lerman's points that caught my eye (citations omitted):

"Despite the well-documented high average returns to college, variations in interests, capacities, and learning styles suggest many young people would benefit far more from alternative pathways to rewarding careers than  they do from academic-only pathways. ...
"Today apprentices make up only 0.2 percent of the U.S. labor force, far less than in Canada (2.2 percent), Britain (2.7 percent), and Australia and Germany (3.7 percent). In addition, government spending on apprenticeship programs is tiny compared with spending by other countries and spending on less-effective career and community college systems that provide education and training for specific occupations. While total annual government funding for apprenticeship in the United States is only about $100 to $400 per apprentice, federal, state, and local annual government spending per participant
for two-year public colleges is approximately $11,400. Not only are government outlays sharply higher, but the cost differentials are even greater after accounting for the higher earnings (and associated taxes) of apprentices compared to college students. Given these data, at least some of the low apprenticeship penetration can be attributed to a lack of public effort in promoting and supporting apprenticeship and to heavy subsidies for alternatives to apprenticeship. ...
"Unlike programs in Austria, Germany, and Switzerland, the  apprenticeship system in the United States is almost entirely divorced from high schools and serves very few workers under the age of twenty-five. ...
"Only a few states, notably Georgia and Wisconsin, now operate youth apprenticeship programs that provide opportunities to youth ages sixteen to nineteen. State funding pays for coordinators in local school systems and sometimes for required courses not offered in high schools. In Georgia, 143 out of 195 school systems currently participate in the apprenticeship program, serving a total of 6,776 students. These apprentices engage in at least 2,000 hours of work-based earning, as well as 144 hours of related classroom instruction. The Wisconsin program includes one-year to two-year options for nearly 2,000 high school juniors and seniors, requiring from 450 to 900 hours in work-based learning and two to four related occupational courses. The program draws on industry skill standards and awards completers with a  Certificate of Occupational Proficiency in the relevant field. Some students also receive technical college academic credit. In Georgia, the industry sectors offering apprenticeship range  from business, marketing, and information management to health and human services and technology and engineering. The Wisconsin youth apprenticeship programs are in food and natural resources, architecture and construction, finance,  health sciences, tourism, information technology, distribution  and logistics, and manufacturing. ...
Two studies of the earnings gains of apprentices and government costs in the United States find that the social benefits outweigh the social and government costs by ratios of 20:1 to 30:1 ... 
Britain’s success in expanding apprenticeship positions from about 150,000 in 2007 to over 850,000 in 2013 offers one example for how to create successful national and decentralized marketing initiatives. ...  Stimulating a sufficient increase in apprenticeship slots is the most important challenge. Although it is easy to cite examples  of employer reluctance to train, the evidence from South Carolina and Britain suggests that a sustained, business-oriented  marketing effort can persuade a large number of employers to participate in apprenticeship training. Both programs were able to more than quadruple apprenticeship offers over about five to six years. ... Compared to expanding the demand for apprentices, increasing supply by attracting sufficient applicants for apprenticeship is likely to be relatively easy.

For previous posts on apprenticeships, see "Apprenticeships for the U.S. Economy" (October 18, 2011),  "Taking Apprenticeships Seriously" (February 18, 2013), and "Apprenticeships: Connecting Young Adults to Jobs" (September 11, 2013).

Lerman's proposal is one of 14 appearing in an e-book called Policies to Address Poverty in America, edited by Melissa S. Kearney and Benjamin H. Harris and published by the Hamilton Project at the Brookings Institution. Each policy proposal is written by an expert in the field, and while the proposal themselves are short and readable, the footnotes and citations are available for those who want a deeper dive. Here's the list of topics:
  • Proposal 1. Expanding Preschool Access For Disadvantaged Children 
  • Proposal 2. Addressing The Parenting Divide To Promote Early Childhood Development For Disadvantaged Children 
  • Proposal 3. Reducing Unintended Pregnancies For Low-Income Women 
  • Proposal 4. Designing Effective Mentoring Programs For Disadvantaged Youth 
  • Proposal 5. Expanding Summer Employment Opportunities For Low-Income Youth 
  • Proposal 6. Addressing the Academic Barriers To Higher Education 
  • Proposal 7. Expanding Apprenticeship Opportunities in the United States 
  • Proposal 8. Improving Employment Outcomes For Disadvantaged Students 
  • Proposal 9. Providing Disadvantaged Workers With Skills To Succeed in the Labor Market 
  • Proposal 10. Supporting Low-Income Workers Through Refundable Child-Care Credits 
  • Proposal 11. Building On The Success of the Earned Income Tax Credit 
  • Proposal 12. Encouraging Work Sharing To Reduce Unemployment 
  • Proposal 13. Designing Thoughtful Minimum Wage Policy at the State and Local Levels 
  • Proposal 14. Smarter, Better, Faster: The Potential For Predictive Analytics and Rapid-Cycle Evaluation To Improve Program Development And Outcomes