Anthony Hennen uses a Martin Center column to explore the current state of apprenticeships.
Within the fractious realm of higher education policy, one of the few ideas to gain bipartisan support is the expansion of technical training for young workers, largely through apprenticeships. Both the political left and right favor apprenticeships as a way to educate and train America’s youth for future success while also meeting the demands of the economy.
However, despite the many advantages offered by apprenticeships, there has been no great rush by young people into such programs. Instead, for many young people, a college degree remains their primary goal upon graduating from high school, even though it is costly and no longer guarantees a middle-class income. Among the reasons are a lack of awareness and a degree of social stigma sometimes attached to those who don’t pursue an academic degree. College-educated parents are particularly suspicious of the long-term benefits of apprenticeships: though they may support apprenticeships in principle, they tend to like it when other people’s children become apprentices, rather than their own.
Still, for many young people, apprenticeships should be especially attractive because they offer an immediate paycheck for work and also teach skills in both hands-on and classroom settings. The average apprenticeship period tends to be about four years, according to Department of Labor statistics, and workers usually become full employees upon program completion.
In contrast, the traditional college route not only requires considerable payment for tuition and fees, but postpones full-time income for at least four years. Furthermore, graduates must find employment on their own after they finish school and may be deeply in debt from student loans.