by Tom Finan, Executive Director, Construction Forum STL
In the face of a worldwide shortage of trained workers, apprenticeship, once common across all industries but until recently increasingly out of favor, has enjoyed a resurgence. This growth is particularly true of programs that afford young people the opportunity to experience on-the-job training while earning a college degree.
In an attempt to become more familiar with apprenticeship in a country that has recently been held up as a model system, by Dr. John Gaal, director of of training and workforce development, St. Louis/Kansas City Carpenters Regional Council, traveled to London to participate in England’s National Apprenticeships Week from March 5-9.
Shortly after he arrived in London John read an article in an English blog that basically said the UK is having the same difficulties that we are here attracting young women into technical careers. "Only a quarter of female students in the UK (27 per cent) would consider a career in technology, compared to 62 per cent of males, PwC's survey of 2,000 A level and university students has found," the blog reported. "Only three per cent of females said tech is their first choice of career, versus 15 per cent of males." In aggregate, across all industries, less than 50 percent of current apprentices are female.
In the UK they now have three apprenticeship programs: Intermediate, which is similar to our pre-apprenticeship programs like Job Corps or YouthBuild; Advanced, similar to our traditional JATC programs; and Higher, which ties the apprenticeship into college work.
A couple of highlights from this study tour involved activities at Parliament. The Rt. Hon. John Healey, MP, provided a tour of the House of Commons and House of Lords. Healey, over a decade ago, was one of the principal architects who revamped laws pertaining to England’s updated apprenticeship system, which is growing at a much faster clip than its US counterpart.
Later in the week, the study group returned to Parliament and participated in the All Party Parliamentary Group hearings focused on promoting (white- and blue-collared) apprenticeships chaired by Ms. Catherine McKinnell, MP. Six apprentices talked about their experiences in the programs. One apprentice testified to her experience as earning a “degree without debt.” To learn more about Apprentice Week in Britain, watch this video.
On Sunday (March 12) Dr. Gaal headed to the Swiss Embassy in Washington, DC. The afternoon and evening program consisted of learning more about the world’s gold standard of apprenticeship: the Swiss system. Speakers from Switzerland and the US (i.e., a manager, an apprentice, and educators) shared stories about how they are utilizing lessons learned from the best apprenticeship model to address their skills shortages.
Many of these solutions involve starting apprentices while the students/apprentices are in their upper-secondary years of schooling. Swiss companies with US operations often have apprentices work in their firms four days per week and attend school one day per week (Buhler—a firm that manufacturers food processing equipment—is an example in MN).
Swiss Ambassador Martin Dahinden forewarns others seeking to grow apprenticeships—utilizing the Swiss model—that due to history and culture this is not something one can merely “copy and paste”. Click to watch a video "Learn While You Earn" about Swiss apprenticeships and how that program has been transferred to the United States.
Here in St. Louis we are making progress toward the international best practices. This past Friday (March 10), St. Louis Community College and the St. Louis Carpenters Joint Apprenticeship, on behalf of the Carpenters' Joint Trust Fund, signed a new Memorandum of Understand (MOU) that will offer an Associates of Applied Sciences (AAS) degree to interested members of the St. Louis-Kansas City Carpenters Regional Council who have completed an affiliated United States Department of Labor registered apprenticeship program. Interested parties will need to complete 15 prescribed credit hours in-class or online with St. Louis Community College in order to qualify for this newly offered degree.