Apprenticeships Useful Alternative, Tough to Implement

A college education is not everyone’s cup of tea. The United States needs other ways to instill job skills in the younger generation. The German apprenticeship system is sometimes viewed as an appealing alternative. But substantially increasing apprenticeship opportunities in the United States may not be as easy or inviting as it sounds. The German model depends for its success on strong unions and professional licensing requirements. Applying the German method to the United States would require huge—and, for some, hugely unpopular—changes to the structure of the economy.

Successfully expanding the availability of apprenticeships in the United States will therefore require real thought. Any American-style apprenticeship model will need to deal effectively with the age-old problem of the “runaway apprentice”—the apprentice who leaves his employer after the employer has invested time and energy in training him, but before the apprentice has been useful enough to make the employer’s investment worthwhile.

This paper discusses various ways to encourage apprenticeships—from ensuring that potential apprentices can borrow money to finance apprenticeships in the way they currently borrow for college (thus allowing the employer to avoid having to pay an apprentice more than he is initially worth) to more elaborate public subsidies and changes in the law.

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