It’s no secret that the United States has lagged behind Europe – and specifically the United Kingdom – in the adoption of apprenticeships. Why is that, and are we closing the gap?
A few statistics for perspective: As recently as 2014, an article in The Atlantic noted that only about five percent of young people in the U.S. are pursuing apprenticeships versus about 60 percent in Germany. And while a Wikipedia entry predicted a doubling of U.S. apprenticeship numbers from 375,000 to 750,000 between 2014 and 2019, that number still pales in comparison to more than 2 million apprenticeships launched since 2015 in the UK, with its much smaller population.
Why Does the U.S. Lag Behind?
While those statistics include all apprenticeships, not just tech-oriented fields, the story is similar across the board. Why?
First is a simple lack of awareness. We’re working hard to spread the gospel of the apprenticeship model, which we feel is a win-win for employer and candidate alike. And we’re getting there, as top-tier organizations like IBM join us to throw their weight behind tech apprenticeships.
Still, there’s a lingering stigma among young people in America around not pursuing a four-year college degree. This has its roots in the post-World War II years, when many parents who had not had the opportunity to attend college considered it the ultimate badge of success to see their children earn diplomas.
The Future of U.S. Apprenticeships
That stigma, though, seems to be fading as reality sets in. Education costs have increased geometrically, far outpacing the cost of living. Worse, that college diploma is no longer a guarantee of high-paying employment that will pay off a potential mountain of debt. And many prospective college students are recognizing yet another financial reality: those four years spent incurring debt are four years when they could have been earning a salary instead, a double financial whammy.
A model that pays the student to learn from the first day and accomplishes this within regular working hours so the candle doesn’t need to burn at both ends, would seem to fill the bill. And that’s how an apprenticeship works. For employers, apprenticeships are an alternative to traditional (and expensive) recruiting methods to fill in-demand tech roles. And as an added benefit, the pool of apprenticeship candidates tends to be much more diverse in age, background and ethnicity than candidates reached via traditional means.
With all that working in favor of apprenticeships, we think the gap will close quickly, and the United States won’t be playing catch-up for too much longer.