Skilled Workers Aren’t Born, They’re Made

HR.com

Posted January 3, 2020 by Mark Perna

Mark’s op-ed was the cover article for the February 2019 Training & Development Excellence digital publication by HR.com.

Apprenticeships, once considered an “old-fashioned” training pathway limited to very specific trades, are gaining ground today as a highly effective and efficient route to a rewarding career. According to a recent American Staffing Association Workforce Monitor survey, 62% of those surveyed believe that apprenticeships and other on-the-job training programs make workers more employable than a college degree.

In June of last year, President Trump signed an executive order to double government funds for apprenticeship programs. It was followed this July with another executive order to establish apprenticeship programs with U.S. companies that will affect 3.8 million workers. This can be seen as a bipartisan move; the Obama administration set aside a record $175 million for the federal grant program for apprenticeships. Continued bipartisan support will be critical to the success of these efforts.

Our View of Apprenticeships is Changing

So what exactly is an apprenticeship today? According to one definition, “Apprenticeship is a kind of job training that involves following and studying a master of the trade on the job instead of in school.” This is much broader than the historical model in which a young person was indentured for a certain period of time to work under an established tradesman and thus learn the trade.

Today, the apprenticeship model is expanding to include a much wider range of career pathways. Structured coaching relationships and mentorships in many corporate businesses embody the spirit of apprenticeship: an experienced worker passing on his or her knowledge, skills, and expertise to a worker new to the field.

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So apprenticeships sound great, but does everyone see them as a viable educational and career pathway? Maybe not in the past, but the ASA survey indicates that that seems to be changing:

About seven in 10 U.S. adults say learning a specific trade is better for finding a job than a bachelor’s degree (68%) and that college degrees aren’t worth as much as they used to be (69%). A majority disagree that completing an apprenticeship will limit one’s future employment options (71%) and that earn-while-learning programs generally lead to a lower salary than occupations requiring a college degree (60%).

The paradigm is changing. And in light of all the benefits that apprenticeships can deliver to both workers and companies, it’s about time.

What Apprenticeships Bring to Workers—and Companies

Most people, given the choice, would prefer to learn by actively doing something rather than by passively hearing it. (This is one shortcoming of the current learning model prevalent in America’s college culture, where 75-minute lectures and copious note-taking are often the order of the day.) Today’s younger generations, whom I call the Why Generation due to their innately inquisitive nature, live for experiences; to them, experience is everything. A learning-by-doing model plays to this strength and can engage Generations Y and Z at a much deeper level than lecture-driven methods.

Learning by doing isn’t a new concept. A quote sometimes attributed to Benjamin Franklin (himself once an apprentice to his brother in the printing trade) says: “Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I remember. Involve me and I learn.” Not only that, but in his famous “Cone of Learning,” educator Edgar Dale claims that over a two-week period we remember only:

  • 10 percent of what we read,
  • 20 percent of what we hear,
  • 30 percent of what we see,
  • 50 percent of what we hear and see,
  • 70 percent of what we say and write, and
  • 90 percent of what we actually participate in.
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Workers who don’t just learn, but actually experience their field will be infinitely better equipped to succeed in the work they’ve chosen. They will also benefit by completing their training at a fraction of the cost of many other postsecondary training pathways.

Businesses that invest in apprenticeship training programs stand to reap the incalculable advantage of a carefully trained, skilled workforce that can deliver exactly what their ever-evolving market requires. Apprenticeships also give firms the opportunity to start building a foundation of employee trust and loyalty in a world where 43% of millennial and 61% of Gen Z workers plan to leave their jobs within two years.

Making Apprenticeship a Path to the Future

While the ASA survey results are encouraging, there is still much work to be done in high school guidance offices, in public awareness, and in legislative action to promote apprenticeships. The idea that “people look down on you” if you choose an apprenticeship path isn’t just an American problem; it’s an international perception. According a March 2018 survey by UK firm ILM, over 50% of middle and senior managers would be unwilling to be seen as apprentices—a number that leaps to 73% in smaller businesses.

Apprenticeships are for anyone who wants to learn by doing, avoid significant educational debt, and get started in a rewarding, high-demand career. And with an increasing number of companies joining the apprenticeship movement, this once-old-fashioned training pathway is fast becoming a route to the future.

Read at HR.com


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Career Research, Press

About The Author
Mark Perna
Mark C. Perna is an international speaker and bestselling author. He also serves as CEO of TFS Results, a strategic consulting firm at the forefront of the national paradigm shift in education and workforce development.
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