Mario Anderson (@MarioAndersonTV)
Nicholas Wyman dicusses the evolving role of apprenticeship around the world and its growth as a means of promoting highly technically skilled workers into new and emerging industries.
Nick is a workforce development and skills expert, CEO of the Institute for Workplace Skills and Innovation, and a multi-award winning author. He was Australian Apprentice of the Year in 1988 and went on to captain Australia’s gold medal-winning Culinary Youth Team. Today, he is a leader in developing skills-building, mentorship and apprenticeship programs that close the gap between education and careers around the world.
In mid-March, during one of those CEO meetings that President Donald Trump used to hold before they were disbanded, Marc Benioff, the chief executive of Salesforce.com, was asked to make some brief remarks. One of Benioff’s passions is apprenticeships; he believes that if the US had an apprenticeship system like Germany or Australia, it could make a significant dent in the unemployment rate, especially among the millions of people who lack college degrees.
After quickly introducing himself, Benioff cut to the chase. “We’d love to encourage you to take a moonshot goal of creating 5 million apprenticeships in the next five years,” he told Trump.
“Let’s do that,” replied the president, breaking into a big smile. “Let’s go for that 5 million. Okay?”
Last week, in an announcement that was barely noticed, the Labor Department unveiled its Task Force on Apprenticeship Expansion. In addition to three cabinet secretaries—Betsy DeVos at Education, Wilbur Ross at Commerce and Alexander Acosta at Labor—the panel will include several chief executives of Fortune 500 companies, some union representatives and the heads of key lobbying groups like the National Association of Manufacturers. Plus John Ratzenberger, the actor who played Cliff Clavin, the postal carrier on “Cheers.” He’s an advocate for skills training.
This is hardly an encouraging first step. Government-appointed task forces rarely make the kinds of bold recommendations needed to jump-start a new idea. That will be especially true of this panel. There are too many interest groups with too many competing agendas to reach the necessary compromises, so the final report is likely to be mush. Like so much else with Trump, it’s hard to imagine this apprenticeship push amounting to anything.
Which is a real shame. According to the Department of Labor, there are 6.1 million jobs that employers can’t fill because they can’t find enough skilled workers. A study conducted this summer by the National Center for the Middle Market at Ohio State University found that 44 percent of mid-market companies 1 said they had difficulty recruiting people who had the skills they needed. Some 37 percent said their growth was constrained by a lack of talent. Small businesses, meanwhile, complain that there are “few or no qualified applications” to fill job openings.
At the same time, young people who didn’t attend college are having a hard time finding jobs that pay more than the minimum wage. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there are 5.1 million Americans who want full-time work but can only find part-time jobs. The unemployment rate for high school graduates and college dropouts is close to 20 percent. Peter Boockvar, the chief market analyst for the economic advisory consulting firm the Lindsey Group, told the Washington Post recently that nearly one out of five Americans between the ages of 25 and 54 are out of work.
This mismatch has a name: the skills gap. The solution, obviously, is to get prospective workers the skills training they need. But this turns out to be something the U.S. is not very good at. Community colleges, which should be a big part of the answer, focus more on standard college material than on vocational training, and their dropout rate is appalling high.
Government retraining programs have had almost no impact. A large part of the reason, says Nicholas Wyman, an expert on job training and apprenticeships, is that “all the supposed training takes place in a classroom” rather than on a factory floor or in a company office.
As for apprenticeships, the only U.S. industry that relies on them is construction, and that is in part because unions use them to keep non-union labor away. (Five of the 23 members of the task force represent either construction unions or the construction industry.)
Yet if done right, apprenticeships could do a lot to close the skills gap. In a good apprenticeship program, unskilled workers would be guided by mentors, get on-the-job training and take narrowly tailored classes in community college.
For companies, apprenticeship programs would mean that instead of waiting fruitlessly for skilled workers to walk in the door, they could build the workforce they need. Government’s role would be to supply enough money to help subsidize the salaries of the apprentices, certify that the apprenticeships meet certain minimum standards, push community colleges to align themselves with an apprenticeship movement, and help create a culture where apprenticeships are seen as a head-held-high alternative to a college degree.
It doesn’t take a task force to figure that out. All it takes is a look across the ocean to see what other countries have done. Put aside Germany, which has had a culture of apprenticeship for hundreds of years. Take, instead, the U.K., which in the late 1990s not only had high unemployment but had the same kind of pessimism among the unemployed that the U.S. now faces. In a bid to spur the economy, the government of Tony Blair decided to revive the country’s apprenticeships, which had nearly died out.
Between 2003 and 2012, according to Thomas Bewick, who advised the Blair government, the number of apprentices grew from 75,000 to 800,000 a year. It’s now up to 1 million a year.
What’s required beyond some government money, Bewick told me, is to get business to buy in.
“In Australia,” said Wyman, who is Australian, “apprenticeships are employer-led, with government as a partner at the table.” Australia also uses nonprofits, called Group Training Organizations, which match apprentices with companies. These organizations pay the apprentices and handle everything from teaching workplace behavior to providing insurance to managing recruitment. Companies pay the apprentice’s wage and a small fee to the nonprofit. Organizing apprenticeships this way is attractive to small and medium-sized businesses for whom running their own programs would be intimidating.
What one hears these days is that big U.S. companies that would like to try to start employing apprentices have lost hope that the Trump administration will ever do anything serious to push the issue along.
What is needed is not a task force, but a person with a vision for how apprenticeships can finally be a tool to shrink the skills gap. A person who is respected in the business community, and can get it to rally around a plan.
Thus my advice to the Trump administration: Disband your task force and give the job to Marc Benioff. And then get out of the way.
By Nicholas Wyman.
You’ve recently graduated from college and are still job hunting. That’s okay. That mortarboard will give you the edge over your peers who didn’t go to college. In fact, the unemployment rate for those with a college degree sits around 2.4%, and it’s held steady over the past year. That rate was substantially lower than the jobless rate across the U.S., which is around 4.4% and is at a 10-year low. According to the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE), employers expect to hire 5% more new college graduates from the class of 2017 than they hired from last year’s class. That’s the good news. Now a word about the competition. U.S. colleges and universities are expected to soon award 1,018,000 associate degrees and 1.9 million bachelor’s degrees, according to the National Centre for Education Statistics. There’s hordes of grads vying to be hired.
Sadly, many college graduates lack both practical work experience as well as soft skills. These are the crucial people skills you need to land a job, be part of and work on a team as well as navigate the day-to-day rigors of a modern workplace.
Here’s some tips on how smart college grads get hired.
Getting your foot in the door
Still sending the same resume en masse to potential employers? Customize it for each job or industry that interests you. Recruiters spend less than five minutes scanning CVs, so in order to standout, highlight your skills relating to the job vacancy. Would a video resume be a good fit for the industry or sector you’re targeting?
Check if your CV trumpets your leadership experience.
That and your major will rank you higher as a job candidate, particularly if a recruiter is deciding between you and another contender. That was the finding from an annual survey by NACE. Employers weren’t worried about other attributes such as the school you attended, your volunteer work, fluency in a foreign language or if you’d studied abroad. They will, however, Google you, so ensure your online reputation doesn’t tarnish your job prospects.
Boost your opportunity with an internship or two
If you’re keen for an internship, you’re in luck. U.S. employers expect to hire 3.4% more interns in 2017 than last year. In the past four years they said they expected to maintain or decrease their hiring levels for interns, according to a recently released report from NACE, which actually shows the regions and company types looking to hire. Always look for a paid internship where possible.
Punch above your weight by who you know
Depending who you listen to, up to 85% of jobs are never advertised. Networking – talking to relatives, friends, peers, teachers, businesspeople and even complete strangers – is a key way to sniff out job opportunities, get noticed, be recommended and nab a role. Chat about your job search, listen to the advice you receive and seek introductions to people in your field of interest. Great for practice interviews. Please follow up, thank them and keep in touch to stay on their radar. Who knows, you might even click and find a mentor or sponsor.
You’re always networking, according to author Patti Hunt-Dirlam. In her book, The Power of Everyday Networking, she talks about seven principles to integrate authentic networking into your daily life. Another way you can do the legwork is with What Color Is Your Parachute, the New York Times best seller that’s sold more than 10 million copies and hasn’t been out of print since the 1970s. The book inspires you to identify and analyze what you enjoy, your past roles and studies, your network and to then leverage your findings to exponentially expand your job search.
Become an expert
The more you talk with people in your industry, the better versed you’ll be on the latest trends and developments. Tapping into industry mags, online news, blogs and podcasts will help set you apart from other candidates and you’ll be demonstrating your work ethic – another drawing card.
Don’t put all your eggs in one basket
On average, just over half of Americans will work in an industry that is directly related to their college degree. Keep your options open. Perhaps a gap year is your style? This can allow you to gain self-knowledge and practical real-world experience. Maybe a side hustle such as freelancing in another field or moonlighting in your own mini-startup could work for you. Hook into short courses, through Udemy, Alison, eDX or another in the top 50 of online courses. Visit global jobs platforms such as Upwork and plenty of others to see what’s on offer in the gig economy – that’s where four out of ten Americans will working by 2020.
Improve your stats
Don’t dwell on rejections. Craft a savvy letter of introduction as a cover letter to accompany your resume. Get serious – does five pitches a week sound do-able? Do the work, steer your career, build your brand and let your passion shine through.
Andrew Skelnik grew up in what he calls a “strong blue-collar background” in Chicago. His father was an electrician, his uncle was a carpenter and his first job out of high school was in the mailroom of a printing plant, where he worked his way up to become a pressman. The word “apprenticeship,” to him, meant learning a similar skilled trade: He was waitlisted for two he applied for at local unions earlier in his career.
But after he began studying computer programming while working in a warehouse, Skelnik, 29, was approached by a career adviser at his community college about a different kind of apprenticeship. He was offered a chance to work for a year at Accenture, the consulting and business services giant, where he got training on software platforms and mentoring on “soft skills” like résumé writing as he continued to take classes at night.
“They were investing in me, so I was hopeful that after everything was done I’d be working here,” Skelnik said. In June, he was hired full-time as a software engineering analyst. The biggest surprise about corporate office life? He says senior managers are more approachable than he’d expected. Oh, and “there’s always free coffee.”
Like a small but growing number of companies, Accenture is launching a program that’s long been associated in the U.S. with skilled trades or manufacturing rather than white-collar careers. Aon, JPMorgan Chase, Amazon and the Hartford are also among the businesses that have begun apprenticeships, combining instruction time with paid on-the-job experience for workers who aren’t quite yet qualified for the job.
Many newer apprenticeship programs are technology-oriented — training people for positions such as internal tech support or software programming. But they’re also training human resources analysts, insurance customer support agents, account managers and more.
“Up until the recent attention I’d go to conferences and speak about apprenticeships,” said Nicholas Wyman, chief executive of a workplace skills consultancy, “and they’d think I was talking about a reality TV show or building construction.”
Indeed, the idea is gaining traction with CEOs well outside the manufacturing field. Marc Benioff, the CEO of cloud software company Salesforce.com, suggested in a roundtable with President Trump earlier this year that he aims for a “moonshot” of 5 million apprenticeships in the next five years. “When you have the IBMs and Amazons and Microsofts talking about it, I believe it generates a conversation,” said Eric Seleznow, a former deputy assistant secretary at the Labor Department in the Obama administration.
Many programs are starting tiny, some with fewer than 25 apprentices, and there are still plenty of challenges to growing them to scale. “It’s a drop in the bucket for [some of] those companies,” said Wyman, saying there’s a long way to go before the U.S. reaches 5 million apprenticeships.
Unlike internships, apprenticeships combine instruction with paid work, usually over a longer period of time, and typically lead to a full-time job. Many employers register their apprenticeship programs with the Department of Labor. It is not mandatory, but doing so can help build their prestige and provide access to certain public funds or resources, according to Brent Parton, deputy director of the Center on Education and Skills at the think tank New America. Registered programs must meet certain requirements, such as giving apprentices pay increases as they gain skills.
The president from “The Apprentice” TV series, however, is looking to make some changes. In June, Trump signed an executive order aimed at expanding the concept, in part by establishing “industry-recognized apprenticeships” that would be developed by third parties such as industry groups or companies. While they may not be subject to the same requirements as registered apprenticeships, a senior White House official said they would still require Department of Labor approval to be eligible for grants and credentials.
Some say this could encourage more businesses to start apprenticeship programs, but others fear it will only confuse them. “If I’m an employer and I’m already confused about apprenticeships, this is just going to make my head hurt more,” said New America’s Parton, who was a Labor Department adviser in the Obama administration.
Trump’s Labor Department, which plans to add between $105 million and $200 million in additional funds to the $95 million set aside for apprenticeships, is not the first administration to see their promise. Apprenticeships have long had bipartisan appeal — current bills have sponsors on both sides of the aisle, and state programs have been pushed by both Democratic and Republican governors. The Obama administration announced $175 million of apprenticeship grants in 2015, helping to jump-start the more recent push.
To date, however, apprenticeships in the United States have not proliferated much outside the skilled trades, and experts offer several reasons. One is the cost of training workers, which is subsidized in such countries as Switzerland.
Another is that white-collar industries don’t have the “connective tissue” that unions provide in the blue-collar sector, training workers for multiple employers, Parton said.
“We rely on each individual employer to run their own program,” he said, an inefficient process that has kept some companies on the sidelines. Others may be hesitant to work with competitors on building a common talent pool.
Another factor: The college-for-all mentality has become a U.S. mantra, making higher education the default training ground for white-collar jobs. Nancy Hoffman, a senior adviser at the nonprofit Jobs for the Future, says “apprenticeship” has had something of a stigma. “The instant you say it, parents say ‘I don’t want my kid to be a plumber,’ ” she says.
But that sentiment could be changing. A newly released survey by New America found that 88 percent of Americans had a favorable view of apprenticeship and 83 percent said they support increased government funding for them. “To see such strong support across both Democrats and Republicans was something everyone was surprised by,” Parton said.
A ‘eureka moment’
Companies that are sponsoring apprenticeships for white-collar jobs say they’re doing so because of their potential for retaining workers and to help close the persistent skills gap, particularly in high-tech jobs.
JPMorgan Chase is running a small pilot program with a community college in Houston and plans to hire 40 people in tech-related jobs before deciding whether to expand. Industries like finance, said Sarah Steinberg, the bank’s vice president of global philanthropy, are “looking to diversify their talent pipeline and frankly, just hire enough folks for those jobs.”
The Hartford, which started a program this year with 17 apprentices in Connecticut and Phoenix, did so partially to compete with more attractive careers for young workers than the insurance industry. “It was a different way to go at the talent conundrum,” said John Kinney, the insurance firm’s chief claims officer. “Diversity was a huge important part of that.”
Amazon, meanwhile, launched an apprenticeship program this year to help it bring in more military veterans, who it says are a good fit for its culture. But many don’t have the updated technical skills the company needs. “It’s very difficult for the military, with their procurement cycle, to stay at the leading edge,” said Ardine Williams, Amazon’s vice president of human resources for worldwide operations. (Amazon CEO Jeffrey P. Bezos owns The Washington Post.)
So Seattle-based Amazon partners with community colleges or with Apprenti, an apprenticeship program launched by a Washington state tech association, to train people for jobs such as data center technicians and cloud support associates. The company has 75 to 100 apprentices now, Williams said, and Amazon is considering expanding the program next to train up hourly workers into tech jobs. “When you look at creating very specific skills for a role that’s an entree to a career, apprenticeships are a very pragmatic way to do that.”
The professional services firm Aon started its program in Chicago partly after seeing the success of apprenticeships in Britain, partly from wanting to diversify their hiring, but also from realizing that people with four-year degrees hired for certain entry-level jobs didn’t always stick around very long.
There was a “eureka moment,” said Bridget Gainer, Aon’s vice president of global public affairs and a Cook County commissioner, when the company realized the positions with higher attrition — jobs like H.R. analysts or internal tech support positions — were also the ones where a college degree had become a default prerequisite.
“They were bored because they’re over-skilled,” she says. “Outside of some call-center roles, the door people walked in [to get a job at Aon] was through a four-year degree. The question for us was, is that a habit, or was that really a requirement?”
Yet even CEOs starting apprenticeships recognize the challenge of growing such programs. “It definitely works, the question is whether we can scale it effectively,” said Greg Case, CEO of Aon, in an interview.
His firm is sharing its experience with local companies to help spread the idea. Some 100 apprenticeships are set for next year across Chicago; Gainer then hopes to expand it into other cities and at higher numbers. Aon’s program currently has 25 apprentices who work at Aon Monday through Thursday and attend one of Chicago’s City Colleges, Harold Washington College, on Fridays.
Julie Sweet, the CEO of Accenture North America, says that in order for apprenticeships to grow, there will need to be more coordinated programs with community colleges, more support for nonprofits and more incentives — such as tax credits or direct investment. “You don’t want this to be a pet project of large-company CEOs.”
Robert Lerman, an economist at the Urban Institute, says that marketing — both from the bully pulpit by governors and presidents, as well as at the “retail” level, directly to companies and young people — is a key to expansion. “Britain spends as much on their ad campaign as we spend on the entire apprenticeship [program],” he said.
But even if companies and the government can better sell the concept — and even if there are more financial incentives — the challenge of scaling it in the U.S. will still be high, says Anthony Carnevale, director of the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce. “We don’t have the institutional relationships required to do this in the way the Europeans do,” he said.
It will also take a shift in mind-set, says Parton, with employers being willing to pool their resources, Americans willing to move past the higher-ed-for-everyone ideal, and educational institutions more willing to recognize learning outside the classroom. “Apprenticeships,” he says, “ask for three revolutions at once.”