| by Nicholas Wyman | Published on Forbes |
During a recent forum at South Carolina’s Trident Technical College, candidate Hillary Clinton proposed a tax incentive to encourage employers to take on more apprentices. With unemployment among 18 to 34 year olds at 7.8%, and nearly 15% among young African-American adults, the need for more apprenticeships and other forms of skills training for young people is clear.
Under Clinton’s excellent proposal, employers would receive a $1,500 tax credit for providing on the job (OJT) training opportunities for young Americans.
Politics aside, expanding the number of apprenticeships in the United States makes good economic sense for businesses and organizations of any kind. Recent research shows that for every dollar spent on apprenticeships, employers realize a $1.47 return through increased workforce productivity. That’s about four times the rate of return that American corporations typically earn on invested capital! Apprenticeships are equally beneficial for young workers, of course, providing them entry to the world of employment and setting them on well-paid career paths that many college grads would envy. Accredited apprenticeship programs provide participants with the skills to master an occupation whilst learning under the direct supervision of an expert.
Why More Apprenticeships?
But expanding the number of apprenticeships in our country isn’t just beneficial for individual employees and employers – it’s good for the greater economy at large. First off, it will redress two critical, related problems facing American business and society: a shortage of “middle-skilled” workers in most sectors of the economy, and high youth unemployment. Ask any executive what is holding back business growth, and you’re likely to get this answer: “We can’t find enough people with the skills we need.” At the same time, America’s high schools (and colleges) are turning out too many graduates with no marketable skills and no relevant work experience. Many will end up in low-paying, unskilled jobs. Others will join an underclass of “unemployables” and rely on the public purse for life’s necessities. And left unresolved, it will grow worse as skilled baby boomers march off to retirement.
I call this paradoxical situation “jobs without people, and people without jobs.” Others call it the “skills gap.” Whatever you call it, this labor market mismatch is stifling innovation and economic growth, and undermining America’s competitiveness on a global scale.
What are the middle-skills in short supply? These are the practical, technical and vocational skills that businesses and companies desperately need – but that are not being taught in the vast majority of four-year colleges. I’m talking about skills like how to wire a circuit board, how to weld an electric car motor, how to operate state of the art medical and dental equipment, how to install photoelectric roof panels, how to program and repair industrial robots, and more. It’s a long list. Apprenticeships are the most powerful tool we have for closing the middle-skills gap, combatting youth unemployment, and stemming the declining fortunes of the middle class. Dollar for dollar, no other form of job training packs as much punch. The best part of apprenticeship training is that it is not simply a well-meaning jobs program that purports to increase the talent pool and boost employment; instead, it directly connects young people to real jobs beginning on day one. Apprentices earn while they learn, and they gain experience in doing a real job every working day.
An apprenticeship is also an effective system for bringing young people into the world of working adults. Because apprentices and their adult mentors work together at close range every day, these young people can’t help but observe and learn how adults communicate, plan, work in teams, solve real-world problems, and more. This is much different than the typical classroom experience, where the social distance between student and teacher is often large and rigorously enforced. That kind of intergenerational cooperation imparts a maturity, confidence, and work ethic not always seen among Millennials. And making them a boon to any employer or manager who has ever bemoaned the lack of communication, time-management and problem-solving skills among young people right out of high school or college.
Of all the developed Western economies, America is at the bottom of the heap in terms of apprenticeships per thousand workers. Not coincidentally, it is also falling behind in manufacturing. One thing worth noting is the German companies with lots of apprentices are pulling ahead. America needs many more apprentices in order to close the middle-skills gap and tame high youth unemployment. Incentives like candidate Clinton’s $1,500 tax credit may not solve the problem entirely, but they can help set us on the path towards closing the skills gap and increasing the pool of skilled talent for our companies and employers to draw from.
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