There’s a model for success in life, right? You graduate from high school, go to college, get your degree, and find a great job using your newly acquired knowledge and skills. Cue happily ever after.
But wait a second. That scenario doesn’t seem like real life. Looking around, we see something different. We see people who can’t afford the escalating cost of a bachelor’s degree, or who can afford it only by incurring debt that will take years to repay. We see people who can’t get a job after they graduate, because there’s a mismatch between what they’ve learned in school and what employers require in the workplace. We see people changing careers often, and needing to acquire new skills.
Something must be wrong with our model. It’s definitely time for a new one.
And luckily, we have one right in front of us – one that’s worked for years in other prosperous economies and is now taking off in the U.S.: modern apprenticeship.
I say “modern” because when most people think of apprenticeships they imagine construction or skilled trades such as plumber or electrician. Yes, apprenticeships are common in those fields, and yes, they give you solid skills that can lead to a well-paying job. But modern apprenticeships encompass many more fields, including finance, healthcare, hospitality, green science and the tech sector. And employers who sponsor modern apprenticeships are often looking for a diversified workforce, including people who haven’t previously considered apprenticeship as a career path.
Let’s think about how apprenticeship can change the typical route from high school to college. I talked to one high-achieving student who did just that. With an outstanding GPA and high achievement test scores, Steve Blevins was on track for college. But that’s not what he wanted to do. Steve had always been interested in working with his hands, so while still in high school, he got a part-time job at Atlas.
After graduation, the company sponsored him in an apprenticeship program with the National Tooling and Machining Association.
To complete his three-year apprenticeship, Steve took courses in trigonometry, blueprint reading, shop math and programming, and other subjects relevant to his job requirements – 576 hours of classroom learning in all. He also received 8000 hours of on-the-job training. At the end, he had a nationally recognized credential, 50 credits toward an associate’s degree, and valuable work experience that included the “soft” skills – decision-making, collaboration, critical thinking – necessary for success in any workplace.
Transferable credentials and skills, a well-paid job and no student debt in three years – Steve’s story shows that modern apprenticeship is a viable path for any high school student who wants to get a head start in the workplace.
Apprenticeships also work well for people who want a change of career. Consider two young men in the Nike apprenticeship program: Hector Avalos and Victor Renderos. Each was engaged in employment or education before they started their apprenticeship – Hector working at an Amazon fulfillment center and Victor taking courses in early childhood education at a local community college -- but both felt they needed a change.
After completing a pre-apprenticeship training course in coding, the two moved on to full apprenticeships as junior web developers at EasyKicks with Nike, where they’re thriving. Hector feels the apprenticeship has given him a career direction he was previously lacking. In particular, the mentoring component has opened him up to new possibilities and new ways of thinking. Says Hector, “I am learning to think outside the box, stretch my imagination, and collaborate to reach outcomes. At school, there was only one solution to every problem. Not here. This is super awesome.”
Victor has a similar story. The apprenticeship is giving him solid skills in a field he wasn’t sure he could master, as well as his first experience in a professional workplace. All of this while being paid.
These are only three of the many people who’ve gained career focus, technical skills and well-paying work through apprenticeships. Apprenticeships can work for people at any age, and any career stage. All that’s needed is a desire to advance and a commitment to learning new skills.
In today’s work environment, those qualities are very much in demand.
Nicholas Wyman is a workforce development and skills expert, author, speaker, and CEO of the Institute for Workplace Skills and Innovation (IWSI Consulting). Wyman is a leader in developing skills-building, mentorship and apprenticeship programs that close the gap between education and careers around the world. IWSI Consulting works with a range of companies, governments and philanthropic organizations all across the globe, including Siemens, Nissan, Ford, and Mercedes-Benz as well as the Commonwealth of Virginia, the United Kingdom and Australia.
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