Norwich Bulletin: Apprenticeships Hold Promise for Youths, Employers

April 17, 2017

Read what the Norwich Bulletin has to say about bills in the legislature to promote apprenticeships.

By Bulletin Editorial Board

When it comes to putting young people on a path toward a stable career and beginning to solve Connecticut’s “skills gap,” it might behoove leaders to look abroad and to the past — the distant past.

The centuries-old apprenticeship model has been usurped in the United States by wider access to post-secondary education; only 5 percent of American youths train as apprentices. Yet many college graduates, told a degree would unlock their potential success, nonetheless struggle to find adequate employment — and some employers report that they, in turn, struggle to find workers with the skills they actually need.

The Connecticut Legislature’s Higher Education and Employment Advancement Committee — which includes Sens. Heather Somers, R-Groton, Mae Flexer, D-Killingly, and Art Linares, R-Westbrook — wants to change that. Its worthy bill would take the first step toward establishing a stronger apprenticeship system here, requiring analysis of high-demand fields ripe for apprenticeship partnerships.

Even president Trump, during German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s recent visit to the White House, said that country’s apprenticeship model “is one of the proven programs to developing a highly skilled workforce.” About 60 percent of German youths voluntarily participate in apprenticeship programs that run concurrently with their ordinary secondary educations. Youth unemployment in Germany is 7.4 percent, about half of what it is in the United States.

It’s not just about filling a skills vacuum and allowing young people to trade their cheap labor for know-how. “In addition, apprentices in all occupations improve their soft skills further due to their early exposure to a real-life work environment — an element that cannot be underestimated in the labor market,” Martin Dahinden, the Swiss ambassador to the U.S., wrote to the higher education committee. In Switzerland, which has the lowest youth unemployment rate among developed countries, children as young as 16 start apprenticing in scores of fields, including professional sectors like insurance, finance and information technology.

If Connecticut wants to continue the progress it’s made toward boosting vocational training and encouraging alternative paths for young people, it should support further study of the apprenticeship opportunities already there for the taking.

That model has worked for centuries, and our Western allies know all too well that it remains just as powerful as it ever was.

That’s our opinion. What’s yours? Email [email protected].