We need a new model for U.S. high schools, but are European apprenticeships the way to go?

The much-admired German apprenticeship system “relies on a very stratified education system along with regulated and heavily unionized labor markets,” writes Eric Hanushek in Education Next. Furthermore, it produces narrowly trained workers who aren’t prepared for changing work demands.

Half of all German youth participate in their vocational and apprenticeship system, which itself builds upon school tracking that occurs in the 4th  grade. The dual system involves youth at the end of compulsory school splitting their time between workplace learning (3 to 4 days of the week) and academic learning in government-funded schools for the remainder of the week. The apprenticeships lead to certification in over 300 occupations, ranging from traditional blue-collar trades to an expansive set of white-collar occupations, including international technology specialists, professional engineers and a variety of administrative jobs.Switzerland and Austria have similar systems.

Germans with vocational training, as compared to general education, lose their employment edge over time, his research shows. By age 50, former apprentices begin leaving the labor market.

Some believe a workforce with narrow skills and problems adapting to change explains slower growth in Europe, compared to the U.S., Hanushek writes.

The limited existing apprenticeships in the U.S. have been most successful in the building trades, in large part because of their unionized and regulated employment. Indeed, in many people’s minds discussion of apprenticeships leads to images of the neighborhood plumber or electrician who is paid high wages for ever-needed services. If currently unskilled youth could be provided training in these areas, there could be obvious employment gains. But, such trades are a small portion of the available unfilled jobs.

The larger skill gaps are found in a wide range of service and technology areas, many in the white-collar occupations.

Poorly educated youths will have trouble learned skilled occupations, writes Hanushek. Job training can’t  substitute for “high-quality primary and secondary schooling that provides basic cognitive skills to all and prepares them for an uncertain future.”

 

Photo in German engineering class by Corbis

This post originally appeared on joannejacobs.com

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Joanne Jacobs

Joanne Jacobs

Joanne was born in Chicago and named after her grandfather, Joe Jacobs, who’d been a police reporter for the Omaha Bee-News. At the age of eight, she and her best friend became the creators and co-editors-in-chief of "The Wednesday Report" for four years. After years as a San Jose Mercury News columnist, Joanne started an education blog in 2001 and wrote "Our School: The Inspiring Story of Two Teachers, One Big Idea and the Charter School That Beat the Odds." She freelances for online sites, newspapers, magazines, foundations and think tanks. In addition to blogging at joannejacobs.com, Joanne writes Community College Spotlight at ccspotlight.org.

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