How Europe could become teacher in the apprenticeship system

In a time where demand for specific skills is growing and meanwhile, “generic” skills are losing attractiveness for the labor market, which are the possibilities that government or other actors could implement to give more occasions for improving high specific qualities which are more and more useful on our currently market?

Almost two years ago, an interesting research has been conducted the UK’s system of to enlighten the potential and the ways for better integrating the academic background together with the market demand. Indeed, England’s apprenticeship system allowed the now 18-year-old London native to switch gears and learn those skills on the job instead. This practical system enables educated students to experiment and improving specific abilities instead of simply working on mechanical jobs which seem no longer have attractiveness for the companies.
Indeed, U.S. apprenticeships have traditionally focused on manual skills such as automotive repair and carpentry, the United States is eyeing European models like this — which provide fast-tracked, on-the-job training in white-collar professions — to prepare people for some of the country’s 5.6 million unfilled jobs as college costs, and the time it takes to earn degrees, keep going up.

U.S. President Barack Obama pledged in 2014 to double the number of U.S. apprentices to 750,000 from 375,000 by 2019. The country is closing in on 500,000, says John Ladd, who has administered apprenticeships since 2008 at the U.S. Department of Labor, which essentially accredits apprentice and certificate programs. The idea has attracted bipartisan backing: Congress this year appropriated funds for apprenticeships — $90 million — for the first time, on top of $175 million in apprenticeship grants the Obama administration handed out to colleges, states and companies last fall to help jumpstart new programs.

In the past, federal support was limited because of concerns that young people would choose apprenticeships that led to menial jobs rather than enter conventional degree programs. That’s a “false choice,” he said. This new generation of apprentices often earns college credit while training for a profession, he noted, so paid apprenticeships actually make it easier to earn degrees, faster and without student-loan debt.

So how USA could learn different ways to properly integrate education and work?

At Illinois’ Harper College, a community college just northwest of Chicago, Switzerland-based Zurich Insurance asked educators to try a Swiss-style apprenticeship program to train more claims adjusters and other workers for its Chicago-area offices. Zurich pays tuition and other expenses for each student, and each spends three days a week getting paid to work at the insurance company and two days in the classroom.
About two dozen students, including 37-year-old Dane Lyons, are in the inaugural class, which started in January. The program lasts two years, after which the graduates have an associate degree in business administration with insurance industry certificates.
“The cool thing is we have a chance to go to school and work at the same time,” says Lyons, who gave up his job selling cars to learn about insurance claims and underwriting. “It really trains us to have what employers are looking for.”
Then, apprentices finish the programs with certificates and, in some cases, college degrees — and often with no student loan debt, a major accomplishment in a country staggering under more than $1 trillion in student loans. Employers usually pay apprentices’ tuition, and the average starting wage for a registered apprenticeship is about $15 per hour, according to the Department of Labor.

In addition, advocates say apprenticeships are the perfect way to fill job openings with skilled workers while reducing the country’s overwhelming student debt. But any meaningful expansion will require changing Americans’ views of apprenticeships, says Nancy Hoffman, a vice president at the nonprofit Jobs for the Future.
For instance, the English system — the United Kingdom’s Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland have not had similar problems — has become unwieldy and has occasionally lost its intended focus on preparing young people for careers. Both England and the United States need to show the public apprenticeships are for more than just blue-collar professions.
In Switzerland, where 70 percent of teenagers participate in apprenticeships, the system provides employers with a steady stream of trained, experienced workers, said Al Crook, the Chicago-based head of human resources business partners for Zurich Insurance’s North American operations.”The U.S. was missing a piece of education and work training,” Crook said, noting that many entry-level claims adjusters had only a high school diploma before Zurich partnered with Harper College. “The Swiss model clearly changes the paradigm and says, ‘There’s value in getting some education.’
The Harper insurance program, which attracted more than 150 applicants for its first 24 spots, includes basic courses such as English and math, but the education even in those classes is focused on the insurance industry. Instead of studying, say, Shakespeare in the English course, students learn technical writing that will be helpful in their career.
Report of a story produced by The Hechinger Report, a nonprofit, independent news organization focused on inequality and innovation in education.