The Apprenticeship Paradox: America Wants Them, But No One Has Them

The apprenticeship paradox is that they are good for the economy, good for workers, good for businesses, but why does no one have them?

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February 11, 2024

When done right, apprenticeships can provide so much good – for employers, employees, and the economy. Countries like Australia and the U.K. have found continued success in establishing successful apprenticeships. In the U.K, it’s estimated that each apprenticeship created is worth an estimated £38,000 to the economy, according to the Centre for Economics and Business.

America wants apprenticeships. The U.S. continues to pour hundreds of millions of dollars into expanding apprenticeship programs. Still, however, only 0.3 percent of the overall workforce in America has completed an apprenticeship in 2022. Compare that number to Switzerland, where more than 70 percent of high school students participate in apprenticeships, and it’s obvious: America is behind. 

We want apprenticeships, we need them to develop our workforce and offer opportunity to all, but no one has them. Why?

The current landscape for U.S. apprenticeships is unnecessarily complicated. The federal system, designed in 1936, to set up and manage apprenticeships doesn’t meet the needs of today’s economy outside of trade jobs. It can take months, even years, to learn this new type of job training and to design and federally register an apprenticeship. In a time when businesses need to have trained people ready to deliver results faster than ever, the current apprenticeship system doesn’t cut it.

Hence, in 2022, we face the Apprenticeship Paradox: apprenticeships are good for the economy, good for workers, but currently too complicated for businesses. What now?

Why America wants apprenticeships

Participating in an apprenticeship provides a clear pathway to the middle class for many workers. Apprenticeships boost earnings of those who participate in them. In Florida, for example, apprentices earn $48,000 in their first year compared to $29,000 for graduates of state-run associate degree programs. Apprentices who complete a program with the Federation for Advanced Manufacturing Education (FAME) earn nearly $100,000 after five years. In the U.K, Apprentices can earn up to 270% more over their lifetime than university graduates, according to Barclays. 

Being paid as you learn opens up opportunities for a broader range of people. An apprentice makes a living wage while in job training, not requiring them to take on so much student debt. The top 30 registered apprentice occupations are in trade and technical professions, and there’s growing demand for expansion into white collar jobs as well. Of the most in-demand jobs in the U.S., 25 of the top 30 are not in the trades. 

Source: https://www.ced.org/reports/improving-noncollege-pathways-to-skills-and-successful-careers

Apprenticeships can also engage individuals more in their own learning. Tamar Jacoby, president of Opportunity America, told Forbes, “Not only is the [apprentice] practicing what they learned in class on the job, but the hands-on experience helps them understand why they’re taking that class in the first place. Many people have told me: ‘I never paid attention in math class until I started welding.’” An apprenticeship can hold a student accountable for their own learning, fostering metacognitive skills and empowering independence.

There is also bipartisan support for expanding apprenticeships. President Trump tried to make it easier for employers to establish apprenticeships. The National Apprenticeship Act of 2021 passed the House on Feb. 5, 2021, but over a year later, it hasn't passed the Senate yet. President Biden’s American Jobs Plan proposes to allocate $48 billion to workforce training, including the creation of two million federally-registered apprenticeships.

Despite its desire for them, the U.S is grossly lacking in apprenticeships 

According to the U.S. Department of Labor, there were 636,000 total active apprenticeships in the U.S. in 2020. That number has remained relatively unchanged since 2008, which means, we aren't seeing net positive growth in the total number of employers creating apprenticeships.

Source: https://www.govtech.com/education/higher-ed/states-expand-apprenticeship-programs-as-worker-shortages-grow

Why don't more U.S. businesses run apprenticeships?

America is trying to build apprenticeships on an antiquated, unnecessarily complicated system. Companies need to move quickly and have trained people ready to deliver results yet most businesses can wait 6 to 12 months (what it takes to set up a federally-apprenticeship program) to begin training and hiring an entry-level employee.

Take, for example, these two step-by-step guides from the Delaware Department of Labor and Apprenticeship Tennessee.gov.

Source: https://www.tn.gov/apprenticeshiptn/employers-sponsors/how-to-start-a-new-program.html

Although education on apprenticeships is available on the internet for free and to everyone, companies typically don't have the time and resources to figure out a whole new language and system of job training that the registered apprenticeship system requires. Many small businesses and entrepreneurs don't have resources to spend over 6 months to design and start an apprenticeship program. The federal-registration process is not sustainable for most companies in its current form.

There’s also a permeating perception in the U.S. that apprenticeships are solely for blue collar jobs in trade and technical fields. Traditionally, that may have been true, and the federal registration numbers certainly provide support for that perspective (the top 30 registered apprentice occupations are in trade and technical professions). However, that number fails to account for private employers creating their own programs and offering white collar, apprenticed positions. 

Perhaps if the federal system gets a (much-needed) update to include the demands of white collar jobs – like not requiring 2,000 hours minimum of on-the-job learning – then private companies will begin to federally register more white collar positions. Then and only then will the numbers reflect: apprenticeships are for all.

Ending the Apprenticeship Paradox: The U.S. needs a modern apprenticeship system

The U.S. needs apprenticeships. Apprenticeships deliver strong ROI to companies and benefits to the economy and workers. But companies also need a simpler, faster, more accessible way of designing and creating an apprenticeship, regardless of registering it federally or not.

It’s our vision to empower businesses to run high-quality apprenticeship programs. That’s why we developed Apprentix – a single platform for all your apprenticeship needs that helps companies design, create, and run programs efficiently. 

With Apprentix, the Apprenticeship Paradox ends: apprenticeships are good for the economy, good for workers, and accessible for businesses.

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