Apprenticeships need more respect

Ed Luce in the FT reports on increased interest in the German model of apprenticeships:

Germany channels roughly half of all high-school students into the vocational education stream from the age of 16….More than 40 per cent of Germans become apprentices. Only 0.3 per cent of the US labour force does so.

Luce, however, thinks that “In the US that would be seen as too divisive, even un-American.” In the United States we obsess about getting a college degree so much that anything else looks like second best. But what is so special about college? As I said in Tuning in to the Dropping Out:

The U.S. has paved a single road to knowledge, the road through the classroom. “Sit down, stay quiet, and absorb. Do this for 12 to 16 years,” we tell the students, “and all will be well.” Most of them, however, crash before they reach the end of the road–some drop out of high school and then more drop out of college. Who can blame them? Sit-down learning is not for everyone, perhaps not even for most people. There are many roads to knowledge.

German apprenticeship students are well-educated, highly skilled and employable and they are in no way second-class relative to college graduates. Going to college is neither necessary nor sufficient to be well educated. Moreover, as Luce goes on to note, even for those who do complete a college degree, all is well no longer.

Fifteen per cent of taxi drivers in the US have a degree, up from 1 per cent in 1970. Likewise, 25 per cent of sales clerks are graduates, against 5 per cent in 1970. An astonishing 5 per cent of janitors now have a bachelor’s degree.


Comments for this post are closed