Companies used to train college graduates and help them learn the skills they needed on the job, but those days have largely passed. All too frequently, students graduate without tangible job skills and loaded with debt. They’ve fallen into what I call the training gap. It’s time for the U.S. to tackle youth unemployment by borrowing from the apprenticeship programs we have developed at Siemens in Germany.
In an article entitled “Over 20 Percent Youth Joblessness and Still No Apprenticeships”, economist Robert Lerman stated that the way out of youth unemployment is through apprenticeship programs which raise the skills and productivity of future workers. That is, turning “productive learners into productive earners”, while students are still in high school.
I admit – the story isn’t exactly a summer beach read, but it caught my attention for a couple of reasons. First, I’m a big believer in apprenticeships as a vehicle for creating a highly skilled workforce as well as meaningful, well-paying work for young people. Second, my daughter just graduated from college and, like many young graduates, is working as a "fellow" after which she'll have to find permanent employment.
She’s not alone. According to a study released last year by the Pew Research Center (Young, Underemployed and Optimistic) just 54 percent of Americans ages 18 to 24 currently have jobs.
That's the lowest employment rate for this age group since the government began keeping track in 1948.
In the typical apprenticeship, high school students enter the program while finishing high school. They take college classes, get paid, gain a skill while working and graduate with a degree. At Siemens, we have been involved in apprenticeships since the founding of our company in 1847. It is a concept which goes back for centuries and was alive and well in the U.S. at its founding. In fact, Benjamin Franklin was an apprentice.
In Germany today, Siemens has 10,000 paid apprentices. Each year we offer jobs to about 2,500 of these graduates. In total, approximately 84% of the apprentices go on to a job within the Siemens network.
Compare the U.S., which does not have a formal apprenticeship program, to two countries that do: Germany and Denmark. Both countries have deeply engrained and successful apprenticeship programs and their youth unemployment rates are 7.5% and 14% respectively. Given that the overall youth unemployment rate in Europe is 24%, these two countries appear to be doing something right.
At Siemens, we have imported our apprenticeship model to our recently expanded gas/steam turbine and generator plant in Charlotte, North Carolina. There, 18 recent high school graduates are in various stages of a 3 ½ year apprenticeship program that we created in partnership with Central Piedmont Community College. They attend classes and earn a significant paycheck while working for Siemens at our advanced turbine plant in Charlotte.
They will graduate debt-free with an Associate’s Degree in Mechatronics that combines expertise in the specialties of mechanical, computer, electronic, software control and system design engineering.
This is the floor for these kids, not the ceiling. Once they graduate, they will be Siemens employees with an average starting salary that is more than the average of a four year liberal arts graduate. Many will go on to earn engineering degrees, also on Siemens’ dime. There is absolutely no limit to what they can accomplish.
But, there is no state funding for this training. We are paying the cost ourselves. We believe it’s a smart investment in the long-term success of our company. The investment we make pays off in a workforce of long-term, highly dedicated, highly skilled employees.
With only 0.3% of American youth participating in apprenticeship programs compared to 50% - 70% in Germany, Switzerland and Austria, it’s easy to see why the U.S. has a training gap and why youth unemployment is so high.
But we can’t expand these programs on our own.
If apprenticeship programs are going to work here we need a firm commitment from both the public and private sectors and we need to start in high school. It must be a true partnership, between companies, educators and governments, with each party having “skin in the game” for it to produce meaningful results – in the form of highly skilled young adults ready for today’s global job market.
The correlation between youth apprenticeships, youth employment and economic prosperity is undeniable. It’s time for the U.S. to take a bold step towards reducing youth unemployment by borrowing from this idea. It’s a bet worth making.
Originally Posted On: Linked In By: Eric A. Spiegel
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