With apprenticeship programs starting to see significant growth in the U.S. it's important to observe and take notes from its already successful counterparts in many European countries. Overseas many apprenticeship programs receive government funding or reimbursements for the cost of apprenticeship training. The apprentice must receive at least minimum wage with the associated community or trade colleges running associated courses.
In Europe, countries have set standards where apprenticeship programs are widespread and trade schools or vocational training are seen as a great career path for many young adults. Most major contractors in the UK run apprenticeship programs, allowing new hires to gain valuable on-the-job experience while simultaneously attending school. For example, one would usually work four days completing on-the-job training and attend school one day a week or take classes in the evening.
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Apprenticeship programs in many European countries are not perceived as a “second-rate” option for those who struggle in traditional academic settings. In many of these countries, apprenticeships represent an important step into the workplace for school leavers and have become central to how employers recruit for their businesses. This holds not just in Germany, but also in countries like Austria and Switzerland, which have apprenticeship models similar to Germany’s dual education model in place.
What makes European apprenticeships so successful is the return on investment many programs experience as many companies face reduced recruiting costs, a more predictable and reliable supply of skilled labor, improved employee retention, and better productivity.
Europe's History of Success with Apprenticeships
With ongoing worker shortages continuing to affect many companies throughout the United States, we have seen a significant shift in how organizations are recruiting new talent as they hope to build talent pools in their surrounding areas. And as the need for skilled workers continues to balloon, many corporations and small businesses in the U.S. are turning to the apprenticeship model that’s seen widespread success throughout Europe.
In the United Kingdom, data from 2017 says that there was a total of around 491,300 active apprentices that year. Those numbers represent a sign-up increase of around 14% from the previous year seeing almost 384,500 starts across industries. Many European analysts have attributed this constant growth to the fact that 89% of apprentices are satisfied with their apprenticeship and 97% of employers have also said the same.
In Switzerland, they have built a flourishing apprenticeship model that many overseas analysts believe to be the best in the world. In their programs, their apprenticeships are completely integrated into their formal education systems where programs are publicly funded with dual vocational training pathways that can lead to a two-year federal certificate, and after three or four years an apprentice can then achieve a federal vocational baccalaureate.
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Typical apprentices in Switzerland start as early as age 15 and spend three or four days a week in training as well as related industry courses paid for by their employers. Participants will have the opportunity to learn about the industry while completing real work where they are paid a modest salary that reaches around $500 to $1,500 a month in U.S. dollars.
Apprenticeship Growth in The United States
Although U.S. apprenticeships have traditionally focused on manual skills such as automotive repair, construction, and carpentry, the U.S. is now looking to emulate European models that provide fast-tracked, on-the-job training in white-collar professions in industries like digital media, cybersecurity, education, and even healthcare.
The U.S. Department of Labor has recently announced the debut of their Apprenticeship Building America Program which will make around $113 million in grant money available to apprenticeships, including $50 million of those funds going towards the support of equity partnerships and pre-apprenticeship programs. The award will also work to modernize and expand registered apprenticeship programs as well as ensure that there are equitable pathways to well-paying careers in new and fast-growing industries.
There is growing recognition that apprenticeships are not separate from career and technical education (CTE) or the rest of the work done at community colleges. What is needed are stronger links between student learning and the workplace and stronger ties to measures of student learning, such as degree completion and pathways.
James Jacobs, President of Macomb Community College of Michigan
According to the U.S. Department of Labor, the number of registered apprenticeships in the U.S. has risen from 375,000 in 2013 to 505,371 in 2016. The goal is to eventually reach around 750,000 programs across the country. This recent growth has been fueled by international partnerships, support from the U.S. Education Department, and employers who want to expand their workforce but are having trouble finding enough skilled workers.
The federal Registered Apprenticeship-College Consortium is also helping to build out the apprenticeship system in the U.S. creating a network that includes around 300 colleges that have teamed up to help highlight apprenticeship training centers across the country.
In the private sector, dozens of U.S. companies have started to endorse the model and set the stage for others to follow. Pharmacy chain CVS hires management apprentices, airline-based company Constant Aviation is hiring service technicians, a charter firm is seeking broker trainees and a New York City public relations agency is advertising for entry-level apprentice managers. As programs continue to grow and expand occupations are added to the U.S. Department of Labors' list and revisions occur frequently. The department recently listed insurance industry apprenticeships in response to Zurich Insurances' request.
While recent efforts to scale Apprenticeships in the US have made significant progress, we still have a long way to go and can learn a lot from our colleagues across the pond.
What We Can Learn from the European Model
Although the US has been running Apprenticeships for nearly a century, we still struggle to keep pace with our counterparts overseas. We’ve distilled these learnings into three areas of focus:
Starting with Awareness. In the European model, students are presented with an option when graduating high school: pursue skills-based training or venture into academia. The key thing here is that both of these options are presented on an equal footing. Schools are incentivized to make the best decision for the student. Which path is best for them, rather than which path is best for the school. This is a fundamental difference that we need to address if we are to see the proliferation of skills-based training in the US.
The second is Funding. In the UK, under the Apprenticeship Levy, all businesses are eligible for funding to “encourage them to invest in and create apprenticeships”. Under their system, employers who bring on apprentices will – at most – be responsible for 5% of the costs associated with training. This level of systematic support is required in order to fully realize the potential of Apprenticeships in the US.
And lastly, Process. The Apprenticeship system in the UK is simple. Employers are either Levy-Paying or Non-Levy-Paying, which determines the type of funding you qualify for, but all employers do qualify for funding. Funds are collected from qualifying employers on a monthly basis via a payroll-like tax, then made available to all employers. Additionally, once you receive funding, there is ONE standardized set of compliance requirements that govern how employers or providers are to manage and report on their programs. Their system is so tightly integrated into the employment lifecycle that building a well-functioning program isn’t as large of a burden as it is in the US, and thus we see its proliferation.
“Empirical evidence shows that in a well-functioning apprenticeship training system, a large share of the training firms can recoup their training investments by the end of the training period. As training firms often succeed in retaining the most suitable apprentices, offering apprenticeships is an attractive strategy to recruit their future skilled workforce.”
Retrieved from the Journal of Labor Policy