Magazine article Techniques

Should Your School Offer Apprenticeship Training?

Magazine article Techniques

Should Your School Offer Apprenticeship Training?

Article excerpt

As America and the rest of the world struggle to regain robust economic growth, the importance of a well-educated workforce is receiving increased attention. In the United States, most of the emphasis is on moving young people to college in the belief that more education of any kind will lead to better labor market opportunity for young people. This focus on college ignores other pathways to success, such as apprenticeships. Apprenticeship is one of several approaches to work-based learning (WBL). Job shadowing is perhaps the most common approach to WBL with various forms of paid and unpaid internships, school-based enterprise, and cooperative education, as other alternatives.

Apprenticeships have all the features needed to prepare workers for occupations that require extended study to attain competence. Apprentices begin with relatively simple tasks and progress to those requiring more complex skills. Apprentices receive individualized instruction from workers who have demonstrated proficiency in what they teach. The procedures learned and equipment used are in the workplace, so there is no need to transfer what is learned in the classroom to what is done on the job. The work itself provides multiple opportunities to practice the skills being learned. Perhaps most inviting of all, apprentices are paid to learn.

A recent report from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) titled Learning for Jobs shows that beyond smoothing the transition from school to the workplace, WBL offers a powerful tool for increasing transferrable soft skills critical to workplace success; these skills are largely ignored in more conventional school-based learning.1 Studies of employers show that they strongly value soft skills like the ability to work in teams, communication skills, problem-solving, entrepreneurship and work discipline. But perhaps the most important value WBL provides is the opportunity to improve literacy and numeracy skills in a practical environment, an appealing alternative for those youth not inclined toward the more abstract pedagogies commonly used in schoolbased learning. Finally, and perhaps most germane to U.S. education debates, research by Bishop and Mane shows that countries in which high percentages of youth engage in intensive career and technical education (CTE) and WBL, like apprenticeships, have higher rates of school completion and participation in tertiary education than in nations like the United States in which such participation is low.2

Proponents of registered apprenticeship argue that the value of this kind of WBL comes from its formal and regulated structures. Apprentices sign formal contracts with their employers that spell out the terms of their agreements. These include skills to be learned, hours of on-the-job and classroom training to be provided, and pay increases to be received as the apprentices' skills improve. Information provided by the U S. Department of Labor indicates that for the fiscal year ending September 30, 2009, the average starting wage for a registered apprentice was $13.99 per hour, and the average wage at completion was S25.82.3

The Office of Apprenticeship also reports that programs have been approved for more than 1,000 occupations.4 Traditionally, the construction trades - such as carpentry, electrical, plumbing and masonry - enroll the largest number of apprentices, but opportunities are available in a wide variety of career areas, including information technology, health, hospitality, retail, environmental protection and transportation.

To qualify for registration, an apprenticeship program must require a minimum of 2,000 hours of on-thejob and classroom learning, and most require considerably more. The average apprenticeship is four years in length. The traditional contract indicates hours of training, with the most common being 2,000 on-the-job hours and 144 classroom hours per year. About 10 percent of programs have moved to a competencybased system that describes the skills an apprentice must demonstrate and the ways in which these skills will be measured. …

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