New Developments for American Apprenticeships

Registered Apprenticehsip
We have a logo and a slogan. Why aren’t we using them more?

The White House recently released the fact sheet entitled “American Job Training Investments: Skills and Jobs to Build a Stronger Middle Class,” which outlines initiatives to promote apprenticeships, and partnerships between community colleges and industry that develop a viable apprenticeship pathway for American workers. While there is still no initiative to align high school curricula to allow apprenticeship training pathways, and no discussion of dual-enrollment in apprenticeship training for high school students, the grants and programs outlined in the fact sheet mark a step in the right direction for providing affordable, work-based pathways to promising employment outcomes for more Americans. I hope that Tennessee community colleges will take advantage of the opportunities.

I’m also encouraged by improvements in the U.S. Department of Labor’s Registered Apprenticeship website, which has made searching for an apprenticeship easier. The site has many similarities to England’s Apprenticeship.org.uk site, and seems to have used the English National Apprenticeship Services website as a template. Try clicking on both the links and see the similarity for yourself. Unfortunately, I found the difference between the two as soon as I tried to search for an actual apprenticeship on each.  The U.S. site lacks the wealth of opportunities available in England’s more developed apprenticeship system, but we must start somewhere, and the changes mark steps in the right direction.

U.S. Registered Apprenticeship also lacks the consistent branding and use of searchable terms employed by England’s National Apprenticeship Service. The acronym, “DOLETA”, for the Department of Labor Employment & Training Administration, is hardly a household term and isn’t associated with apprenticeship in the public mind at all, so it’s just confusing to call the domain name www.doleta.gov/oa/. They’ve added a new apprenticeship search website called “My Next Move” – another name that doesn’t include, or suggest, the word apprenticeship. If the goal is to establish the apprenticeship pathway in the minds of Americans, the Department of Labor needs a consistent brand with the word ‘apprenticeship’ prominent and searchable.

The new initiative also lacks the advertising blitz that the British government made when it reinvigorated its apprenticeship program. England’s National Apprenticeship Service has a youtube channel with youthful, modern videos explaining the pathways for both potential apprentices and employers, and a social media presence targeted toward youth. I also saw a wealth of advertising promoting the National Apprenticeship Service while I was in England, and representatives from the National Apprenticeship Service had a visible presence at the education conferences, career fairs, and in the high schools I visited.

We’re Americans. If there’s one thing we know how to do, it’s market a brand. Can’t we do a better job, here? Why not use apprentices to promote the apprenticeship brand? Marketing and online media entrepreneurship are just the sorts of fields that we should be using apprenticeship pathways to advance.  While living in Leeds, I interviewed an eighteen year old young woman working as an apprentice with an upstart business magazine who was overflowing with excitement as she described how she was learning print advertising and media design on the job.

The newly released Department of Labor fact sheet describes one purpose of the grants here:

These grants will build from strength and invest in innovations and strategies to scale apprenticeships – including to market the value of apprenticeships, make them more attractive to women and other Americans who have been underrepresented, increase the return on investment for workers and, or build national and regional partnerships to expand apprenticeships.”

Aren’t there any promising, young female or other underrepresented marketing apprentices who could work with a hot marketing firm to “learn while they earn” and promote the brand of apprenticeship in the minds of American employers and youth?

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Promoting Youth Apprenticeship in America

Did anybody even notice when President Obama said that he wanted to create “more apprenticeships that set a young worker on an upward trajectory for life” in the last State of the Union address? I don’t think so, because I haven’t heard a word of follow-up since. Youth apprenticeship has been one of the most intriguing programs I have observed here in England. Here’s a short video explaining the program, and there are lots more available from England’s National Apprenticeship Service Youtube channel.

My American conception of what apprenticeship means was set on its ear when I visited an 18 year-old apprentice Office Manager for a startup small business magazine here in Leeds. I had always pictured apprenticeships in large factories or in the construction trades. My mental image of an apprentice was always male, and definitely older than the young woman I observed in the magazine office. Here was this vibrant young woman, coordinating the work of designers, writers, and copy editors in a creative, youthful office place. She was involved with a team that asked for her input and supported her learning. She had started her apprenticeship when she was 17, and is earning the equivalent of high school credits through her work. England doesn’t issue a high school diploma. Students earn qualifications in specific coursework, and this apprentice was earning qualifications in Team Leadership, leading to Business Management. She has to do about 20% of her work in written assignments outside of the work setting, but most of her learning takes place on the job. Apprenticeships are paid jobs, but the pay can be lower than the national minimum wage. Some in England argue that the lower pay can lead to exploitation of younger workers, but when you consider the number of unpaid internships in the U.S., a pathway that allows students to “earn while they learn” seems like it could include many young people who can’t afford to give up work to get an education.

England hasn’t always had a strong system of apprenticeship. It took intense government investment to revitalize the program beginning in the 1990’s, and continuing to a restructuring of the program into the coordinated National Apprenticeship Service that now oversees all aspects of apprenticeships. This week is National Apprenticeship Week, with events all over the country celebrating apprentices and their employers. On Friday, I’m attending the Health Education Yorkshire and the Humber Apprenticeship Awards, and have been asked to write a short piece for the group from my perspective as an American observer. I’m looking forward to meeting more people involved with apprenticeships and thinking about how apprenticeship could work for us in Tennessee.

Dear President Obama, I Want to be an Apprentice

Dear President Obama,

I want to be an Apprentice. I heard you say in your State of the Union address that you want “more on-the-job training, and more apprenticeships that set a young worker on an upward trajectory for life.” Well, I’m not young, but I am interested in jumping on that upward trajectory. You see, I am a teacher, and it’s hard to support my family on the salary I earn teaching in rural Tennessee. I want to earn a graduate degree in Educational Policy, so that I can share my years of teaching experience to help shape the future of education in my community, and for my country.

But like many of the students I teach, the world of academia isn’t the place where I learn best. I gain the most when I am able to apply my knowledge in real world settings. I am temporarily living in England, where workers in Higher Apprenticeship frameworks earn university-level qualifications through on-the-job training in companies such as Barclay’s and Rolls Royce. While I’m not aware of graduate degrees  in Education earned through apprenticeships, I have seen workers gaining degrees in fields from Engineering to Human Resources to Business. Perhaps I could help the U.S. lead the way in promoting apprenticeship pathways to fulfilling, high-paying careers that will keep our nation strong through the 21st century.

Also like many of the students I teach, I can neither afford to quit working in order to attend school, nor pay the high cost of a university degree. If we are to increase social mobility and reduce the inequality that continues to limit our nation, we must provide work-based pathways to higher education. Most apprenticeship frameworks here in England involve 80% work-based training with mentors in the industry sector and 20% classroom-based learning from a further or higher education training provider. Apprentices are paid by their employer. Even governmental bodies and schools employ apprentices here in England. I could offer my years of teaching experience to work alongside current educational policy leaders, and attend part-time or blended learning classes to complete the coursework required to gain a university degree. My employer would benefit from my years of teaching experience, I would advance my career without having to leave my profession, and our nation would develop a framework to share the benefits of higher education across all our communities.

Please consider my offer to help our country develop innovative pathways for career development. For more information about England’s Higher Apprenticeship program, you can view the National Apprenticeship Service’s youtube video about the subject at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DG3PqhU5prM.

Sincerely,

Rebecca Leech, Teacher