More Apprentices Needed

New Trump effort hopes to have more workers hearing, "You're hired!"

By Alex Chediak Published on June 12, 2017

The White House is calling this Workforce Development Week. On Tuesday, President Trump will join Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker for a tour of Waukesha County Technical College. He’ll also sit down for a discussion with local business owners, teachers and apprentices. On Wednesday, Trump will deliver a major policy speech on workforce development. He’s also expected to discuss his ideas for working with Congress on college affordability. And on Thursday, Ivanka Trump will host a roundtable with President Trump, administration officials and several governors to discuss workforce issues.

Some 6 million jobs are currently unfilled — the highest figure since the 1980s. Labor Secretary Acosta notes that 95% of CEOs are having trouble filling vacancies. One solution is to boost apprenticeships. “They’re proven, they’re effective, and our intent is to expand the apprenticeship program broadly and to scale it up,” Acosta said.

About half a million students were in registered apprenticeships in 2016. That’s a blip compared with the 17 million students enrolled in bachelor’s degree programs. But while about 70% of students in bachelor’s degree programs take out loans, about 40% of undergraduates fail to graduate in six years. Many of the 40% who failed to graduate are among the 70% that took out loans. In fact, high debt is a major reason why students drop out of college.

Why Apprenticeships?

Apprentices, by design, earn as they learn. The Department of Labor’s website says that the average starting wage for an apprentice is about $15.00 per hour. This figure rises over the course of the apprenticeship to an annual figure of about $50,000. That’s about the same as the average pay for 2017 college graduates. Programs last from one to six years, but the majority of programs take four years.

Apprenticeships commonly work on the idea of a private-private partnership. Companies team up with technical schools to find and train quality workers. The tricky part is getting the private sector to foot the bill. After all, it’s cheaper for companies if colleges do the training (and screening) of applicants.

Encouraging Apprenticeships

But if companies are having trouble finding good workers, maybe they should do more of their own training? Perhaps the negotiator-in-chief can help. What if Trump offered tax breaks for companies hiring apprentices? Or block grants to non-profits like CareerWise Colorado, which aims to enroll 20,000 Colorado students in apprenticeship programs by 2027? Or expanded the Federal Pell Grant program to support apprenticeships? The bully pulpit alone could probably bring more companies to the table. (And it’s not like Trump is a stranger to the “Apprentice” concept.)

We need to get away from thinking that a bachelor’s degree is the right fit for every student. Those in the skilled trades deserve equal respect.

There’s also the public perception issue. When parents, high school teachers and K-12 school boards hear “apprenticeships” they picture young men covered in grease or dirt — future mechanics, plumbers or carpenters. And they fear young adults not earning a marketable degree.

While apprenticeships are historically more common in the skilled trades, that’s not the whole story, says Scott Carlson. “Apprenticeships in white-collar work, like insurance and information technology, can be found among traditional apprenticeship offerings in manufacturing or the trades.” Colleges could certify that apprentices have mastered certain math, science, programming or writing skills along the way. The apprentice could complete their on-the-job training while earning an Associate’s or Bachelor’s degree.

A Bipartisan Issue

The expansion of apprenticeships is a bipartisan issue. This was something President Obama championed, for example, in his 2014 state of the union address. The number of apprenticeships grew by 75,000 in the next two years — a more than 15% increase. In Chicago, Mayor Emmanuel has been promoting apprenticeships. Chicago’s City Colleges have set up programs with major employers like financial services giant Aon. And in the suburb of Palatine, Harper College’s apprenticeship program has teamed up with Swiss insurance carrier Zurich.

We need to get away from thinking that a bachelor’s degree is the right fit for every student. Those in the skilled trades deserve equal respect. After all, we depend on them for paved roads, indoor plumbing, working electricity and much more. But we also need to expand our thinking about education. Since lack of work experience is a common complaint from employers hiring college graduates, we should welcome new ways to boost in-class learning with on-the-job training.


Dr. Alex Chediak (Ph.D., U.C. Berkeley) is a professor at California Baptist University and the author of Thriving at College (Tyndale House, 2011), a roadmap for how students can best navigate the challenges of their college years. His latest book is Beating the College Debt Trap. Learn more about him at or follow him on Twitter (@chediak).

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  • Wayne Cook

    In my industry we have a severe shortage of young techies coming in to the workforce. The skills of this arena of broadcast television aren’t taught in most schools, and the demands on engineers are as stringent as any student who faces a final in college.

    The ability to learn in this field crosses so many disciplines that ads for workers are just the tip of the iceberg of what we need. It is EXTREMELY difficult to find motivated kids and the lack of interested young people in the engineering programs leaves television with an aging workforce. From software to visual media, from IT to camera management, TV encompasses batteries to rocket science and OJT is almost a given.

    Perhaps the base requirement would be an associate’s degree in electronics or electrical engineering, but the breadth of needs exceeds the education one would receive in either field. I started in photography, earned a associates in journalism, and repaired CB radios long before I got my first chance at being a film engineer, or shaded TV cameras for live shows.

    A great deal of this shortage is due to the changes in requirements by the FCC, in that they stripped the need for First Class licensees from the basic technical needs. The alternate has been to recruit from Ham radio since most of those folks have more technical acuity than colleges teach in engineering programs.

    Who knows? As long as management won’t invest in interested kids, it’s going to continue to be a hard row to hoe for us, who now average in age at 55!

  • Charles Burge

    Getting a college education is good, but it seems to me that for the past generation or two, we as a society have been a bit too focused on that. There are lots of good, high-paying jobs that don’t require a 4-year degree. I think perhaps we haven’t done a good job of making high-school students aware of those opportunities.

    Another problem I see in America is that we tend to denigrate blue-collar jobs as less desirable or less fashionable than white-collar jobs – almost as if working with your hands is what you do if you’re not smart enough to work in an office. I think that’s completely the wrong approach. Mike Rowe (of “Dirty Jobs” fame) has done a wonderful job of singing the praises of blue-collar work, and pointing out how those jobs are an integral part of society. We need more voices like his – because we still need people to maintain electrical lines, drive trucks, install carpets, and a wide range of other manual tasks.

  • Conservator

    As a retiring (next week) technical educator and administrator who has worked for the last 35 years in public high schools and community collegesI applaud President Trump for recognizing the importance of technical training. The need for skilled technical workers has been apparent for decades but most businesses and industries take a very short-sighted approach to this problem and are unable or unwilling to get involved. Many small businesses don’t have the resources to take on apprenticeships – they are too busy trying to survive. Bigger corporations often don’t worry about the supply of skilled employees until they are faced with a crisis. Let’s get this straight – YOU CANNNOT CRANK OUT SKILLED EMPLOYEES OVERNIGHT IT TAKES TIME. Some companies I have worked with had the foresight to work with the public schools and colleges to develop apprenticeship programs and are now able to take their pick of the best potential employees coming out of our programs. Most wait until there is a crisis and complain that the schools are not doing their job because they want skilled employees RIGHT NOW!

    Then there is the problem of developing career pathways in the public schools. As noted in this article most parents want their children to get a 4 year degree as if that is the only route to financial stability and success. Oh, and all those statistics and reports showing that a 4 year degree puts you way ahead in the earnings race of life are mostly bogus. Especially today when many 4 year grads are burdened with debt that will take them years to pay off. Technical careers pay as well if not better than careers that require a Bachelor’s degree and significantly more than liberal arts or service related degrees. Problem is, students are not even aware of technical professions and see going down to the “shop” class as beneath them. Unfortunately some teachers and school counselors encourage this attitude. In the days of declining financial support for our schools when programs have to be cut technical programs are often an easy target. Heaven help the administrator that suggests cutting back on a sports program – the next board meeting will be bristling with angry parents demanding the administration be fired on the spot. But close a technical program that teaches students practical skills and nobody shows up – meh.

    1. Educate parents they are the greatest influence on young people and their career choices.
    2. Support technical education training programs that are based upon workforce needs and meet employer standards. There are national accrediting bodies made up of industry partners that have defined what skills are needed.

    3. Employers have to get involved. Demand public schools provide career pathways that lead to technical education and help them get there. Serve on advisory boards, provide on job training opportunities, come talk to students about opportunities, run for the school board or talk to board members. Demand 2+2 programs that encourage students in high school to take two years of technical training that lead to a two year technical degree from the local community college. Maybe even help provide upgraded technical equipment and training opportunities for technical instructors. TAKE THE LONG VIEW and develop a pipeline into your technical job needs. Then you can pick from the most talented young graduates.

    4. Don’t rely on the government to do this!!! Heaven forbid that Trump create another agency to foster apprenticeships. That will guarantee that millions of dollars will be wasted on new offices, new government employees and most of the money will be siphoned off into government jobs and agencies that will do little to effect change. This has to be a local, grass-roots effort or it will fade away. I’ve seen it happen. The professional conference industry will ramp up, create new conferences on apprenticeships so teachers and administrators can spend all that government money going to meetings in big hotels in the city. All the education bureaucrats in state and federal agencies will show up and a good time will be had by all but little will get done at home. Been there done that. I could go on and on but my breakfast is getting cold.

  • Flyonaline

    I’m 66 years old and looking for work after recovering from stage four cancer and a full shoulder replacement. I’m trying to find a job as a building maintenance for a ministry. It’s mostly janitorial with some repair of light machinery and use of hand tools. It appears like I may not get it because I don’t have a Bachelor’s degree. It doesn’t even matter what the degree is in, I don’t have it and I’m not in a position to get one.. Bachelor’s degree for a janitor’s job!!!

  • 187thAHCDoorgunner

    I retired as an apprenticeship trained electrician/instrument technician after 38 years in the trade. I also taught in the apprenticeship program as well, my thesis being that when I started I didn’t even know a conduit knockout from a TKO, so the least I could do was pay a little back by training those on the way up the trade coming behind. Today I am retired in the southwest and have been for over 15 years. My combined income of pension/social security (which I was shocked to find still existed when I was old enough to collect) is approximately twice the local average income wage in this area. I tried the college thing (three times) but never could see the value of that sheepskin in my life. I always advocated that a college student in architecture/engineering should be obliged to demonstrate at least 300 hours each in the general construction, mechanical, and electrical fields before being allowed to test for license, and that we as tradesmen should see that there were summer jobs for those college students to accumulate the required experience. Solve a lot of problems for the industry and could create architects and engineers that would do a lot less damage in the long run. Now I’m in my 70s and still nobody wants to hear it.

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