Magazine article Talent Development

Talent Development Goes Old-School: Apprenticeships Are Making a Comeback to Fill the U.S. Skills Shortage

Magazine article Talent Development

Talent Development Goes Old-School: Apprenticeships Are Making a Comeback to Fill the U.S. Skills Shortage

Article excerpt

From the peregrine falcon's return from the brink of extinction to the Chicago Cubs ending the longest championship drought in the history of North American professional sports, nearly everyone loves a good comeback. And these stories don't just occur in nature and athletics--they're everywhere, even in talent development.

Just look at apprenticeships in the United States.

According to the U.S. Department of Labor, the country's number of active apprentices decreased by almost 32 percent between fiscal years 2003 and 2011. But they didn't stay down for long. Registered apprentices have surged back in the past half-decade, increasing by 41 percent between fiscal years 2011 and 2016 to more than a half-million individuals. And while 500,000 people might not seem like many in a country of more than 300 million, it appears this growth may be just the tip of the spear.

Bipartisan political support should ensure that apprenticeships continue to flourish. In 2015, a report from the Obama administration characterized them as the "gold standard" for on-the-job training, and Trump has called for the country to create millions of new apprenticeships during the next five years.

Political and business leaders may be inspired by Germany, which has a government-regulated apprenticeship program that about half of students participate in. The program was initially created in 1969, but updated in 2005. Since that update, the country's labor participation rate has risen steadily while its unemployment rate has fallen, according to data from

If talent development professionals in the United States can design apprenticeships that offer similar rewards, organizations and individuals stand to benefit.

The resurgence explained

To understand the recent rise in apprenticeships, it's important to know about the challenges both organizations and employees face in today's labor market. A 2017 CareerBuilder survey illustrates the problem well. According to its results, despite the United States having more than 7.5 million unemployed individuals (and millions more who have given up looking for work altogether), 68 percent of U.S. employers interested in enlarging their full-time workforces have open positions for which they cannot find qualified candidates. Meanwhile, 57 percent of workers want to learn a new skill set to land a better job, but half of this group said that education costs prohibit them from doing so.

For both parties, apprenticeships can offer lasting relief. For companies, they can provide a tool for developing people to fill long-term talent shortages. For individuals, they offer a path to the middle class that doesn't involve sacrificing earning for learning or taking on debt. (According to the Department of Labor, the average apprenticeship graduate makes a starting salary of more than $60,000 per year.)

Whom apprenticeships can train

Although many people still think of apprenticeships only as a tool for developing blue-collar workers, they can be used for hundreds of occupations. The Department of Labor notes that apprenticeships can train people for work in fields such as healthcare, IT, advanced manufacturing, and financial services, in positions ranging from nurses to computer programmers. The main idea is that apprenticeships should target skilled professions that people can best learn by doing.

Characterizing modern apprenticeships

A good resource for learning about what constitutes a modern apprenticeship is The Benefits and Costs of Apprenticeship: A Business Perspective, a November 2016 report from the U. …

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