When most people hear the word “apprenticeship,” they envision the model that Europe has used for hundreds of years – young adults choosing to make horseshoes on an anvil rather than enrolling in higher education – substituting on the job learning for formal education. This Game of Thrones-like image is a completely outdated view on apprenticeship that holds back its development. The modern, American incarnation of apprenticeship, which is experiencing a renaissance in a world of severe labor shortages in skilled trades, differs in three crucial ways from the stereotype.
1. Apprenticeship IS Higher Education
Apprenticeship is really just another term for real world-augmented learning. Today’s “apprenticeable trades” are not ones where you just swing a hammer and slowly get better – they actually require higher education. Apprenticeships require a blend of “classroom learning” as well as applied or “on-the-job" learning in order to produce a fully productive worker, and both are equally important. So, apprenticeship isn’t an alternative to higher education for those less capable; it’s an applied form of higher education requiring similar levels of mastery of core subject areas.
2. Apprenticeship ISN’T Just Hammering
Over 30% of jobs require some form of higher education, though not all of those fit into the four year diploma or manufacturing molds.1 Work-based learning under the apprenticeship umbrella is relevant in a variety of fields – from healthcare to appliance installation and everywhere in between. As the “experienced employee” becomes a scarcer commodity to find, the notion of combining education and experiential learning to gain the advantages of both has branched out over thousands of registered apprenticeable fields.
3. Apprentices AREN’T Just Kids
The jobs that apprenticeships train for are high paying and require dedication. Oftentimes, an 18-year-old right out of high school isn’t choosing or being selected for an apprenticeship – it’s the 30 or 40-year-old with years of work experience, a track record of reliability and a core base of soft skills who just needs greater technical instruction to advance in his/her career. Apprenticeship, while associated with entry-level jobs, trains for the entry level of SKILLED jobs; 70% of jobs still don’t require any kind of formal education. So apprenticeship is often being used as a key piece of a career ladder at many companies - helping tenured workers upskill for new roles - rather than just as a piece of the recruiting funnel for high school age workers.
Apprenticeship has come so far, the word itself seems outdated. The explosion of opportunities for individuals to gain education and work experience at the same time has created a whole universe of “apprenticeships” that hold the key to filling the skills gap. As perception shifts away from a blacksmith-apprenticeship mindset, the workforce will shift into this “middle skilled” or “some higher education” bucket that today’s workforce demands.
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Resources: Photo Credit. (1) Georgetown Public Policy Institute