Apprenticeship programs are occupational training programs that combine on-the-job work experience with technical or classroom study. Such programs are designed to develop useful skills in individuals who are not planning to attend or have not attended college. The programs also address the need for better-trained entry-level workers and help young people make the transition from school to work. From an employer's point of view, apprenticeship programs can help reduce the high cost of training inexperienced workers.
There are more than 800 occupations in the United States for which apprenticeships are available. Many of them are in the skilled trades and crafts, notably in occupations related to the construction industry. In many states apprenticeship programs are required to obtain occupational licensing or certification, and there are 27 states with state-regulated apprenticeship programs. Although there is currently no national apprenticeship program in the United States, the U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Apprenticeship and Training, maintains a registry of apprenticeship programs and the occupations that are covered.
Apprenticeship programs may be sponsored by employers, a group of employers, or a union. Trade and other nonprofit organizations also sponsor apprenticeship programs within certain industries. Unions and employers often form joint apprenticeship committees to administer the programs. Such committees are concerned with determining an industry's particular needs and developing standards for the apprenticeship programs. Apprenticeship programs are usually registered with the federal or state government to ensure that the programs meet standards relating to job duties, instruction, wages, and safety and health conditions.
Individuals who are interested in entering an apprenticeship program must meet certain qualifications. Because of child labor laws in the United States, most apprenticeship programs in the United States require applicants to be at least 16 or 18 years of age. While some states have apprenticeship programs for high school juniors and seniors, most apprenticeship programs require a high school diploma. Other requirements relate to aptitude and physical condition.
Once an individual has been accepted into an apprenticeship program, he or she usually signs an agreement with the program's sponsor. The agreement covers such matters as the sponsor's compliance with the program's standards and the apprentice's performance of the required work and completion of the necessary studies. While enrolled in the program the apprentice works under the supervision of a fully qualified journeyperson as a paid, full-time employee. Apprentices are usually paid about half what a journeyperson makes, and also receive relevant instruction outside of regular working hours, either in a classroom or through at-home study. The program may last from one to six years, depending on the occupation and other requirements. Journey certification or some other type of credential is usually granted upon successful completion of an apprenticeship program.
There has been a growing recognition in the 1990s that U.S. high schools are not adequately preparing students for the workforce. Some 70 percent of high school graduates will not attend college immediately after graduation. Those are the students who would be targeted for enrollment in a national apprenticeship program in the United States. Such a program could provide apprenticeship training and job-skills certification at the national level and help to reduce the wage gap between college graduates and those who do not attend college. It would also provide for better-trained entry level workers and address concerns about the lack of skilled workers. According to one source, only 15 percent of the jobs in the American economy will be suitable for unskilled workers by the year 2000, compared with 35 percent in 1996 and 60 percent in 1950.
While Congress stopped short of mandating a national apprenticeship program, it did pass the School-to-Work Opportunities Act of 1993. This piece of legislation was designed to encourage the formation of youth apprenticeship programs as well as other types of programs that would help high school students make the transition to the world of work upon graduation. With financial help being offered by federal and state governments, employers and educators were encouraged to act together and design appropriate programs. As part of the school-to-work movement, the National Alliance of Business established a Business Center for Youth Apprenticeship in Washington, D.C., in 1993. The center was designed to promote partnerships between business and education and encourage legislative initiatives on youth apprenticeship.
Apprenticeship programs have also been applied to retrain a company's existing workforce and create workers with versatile skills. In one example, management created a "cell" concept. In each cell, apprentices trained with skilled machinists to produce certain products. All of the cell's members learned to operate all of the machinery required to complete that cell's work. Over time, cell members learned other sets of skills by working in different cells on different equipment. In this way, the company produced skilled workers in a manufacturing area that was suffering from a severely reduced labor pool.
In Europe, Germany's national apprenticeship program has been cited as a model on which to build an American program. Denmark, Holland, and Switzerland also have national training programs in place. Many aspects of the German program, however, would probably not be culturally acceptable in America. For example, in Germany's highly successful program, students are separated into one of three tracks at the relatively early age of 11, and by the age of 14 they know whether they will attend a university or enter an apprenticeship program.
SEE ALSO : On-the-Job Training
[ David P Bianco ]
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