Apprenticeships could create millions of jobs

April 30, 2018

A new report from the Harvard Business School’s Project on Managing the Future of Work and Burning Glass Technologies suggests that apprenticeship training could help students find pathways to good jobs and could help employers find skilled workers. Based on the findings, these opportunities could be made available in more than 70 skill-based occupations.

Their analysis of more than 23 million job postings—posted by the website Working Nation, shows that apprenticeships can be more than a pathway to a manufacturing job. In fact, the researchers say, apprenticeships can be applied to jobs such as shipping clerk, insurance claims adjuster and tax preparer.

These and other “middle-skill occupations” rely on workers who are capable of acquiring what the researchers say is a “narrow but deep set of skills,” many of which can be learned while on-the-job.

“Apprenticeships lend themselves to jobs with certain types of characteristics,” says report co-author and Professor of Management Practice at Harvard Business School Joseph B. Fuller. “We wanted to think about the scope of jobs that lend themselves to the model.”

The report, entitled Room to Grow: Identifying New Frontiers in Apprenticeship, identified the 27 occupations that currently employ apprentices and found that more than half of them were in construction or extraction—such as mining. These jobs are geared to attract entry-level workers with high school degrees and, traditionally, have been a way for these job applicants to ascend to a secure, middle-class lifestyle.

However, just 410,000 people were involved in civilian apprenticeships in 2016, the report said, citing a U.S. Department of Labor statistic.

If apprenticeship training in these “core” occupations were widespread, that number would have been more than 1.5 million, according to the study. Going deeper into other occupations that do not employ apprentices, the researchers say that 1.86 million roles could be added.

Unlike in Europe, where apprenticeship is common and has been in practice for the past 100 years, most U.S. employers have ignored this model, leaving it clustered in regions with a heavy union presence.

Burning Glass Technologies CEO Matt Sigelman says that many employers have been averse to these programs and instead rely on a college degree as a “proxy” for a skilled workforce.

“There’s a free-rider problem when it comes to how employers treat Americans’ educational training infrastructure. They are used to having the right to hire people who have been trained up for [jobs] and not have to pay for that training,” Sigelman says.

Today, such apprenticeships are making a comeback in South Carolina, which gives a tax credit of $1,000 per each apprentice registered in the program and Fuller remarked that apprenticeships in that state have “grown dramatically.”

Fuller believes that more effective work can be done at the state and local level as employers, industry associations and educators can link up to create a workforce pipeline that is responsive to industry needs.

“Small incentives encourage people to try something new,” he said.

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