The other day, while standing by my car on a Manhattan street waiting for alternate side parking to end. I got talking to the guy next to me, also waiting. Turns out he is a plumber with a good business -- employs six workers and is looking for apprentices, but, he says, no one wants to get their hands dirty. He can't find anyone to answer his ad.
I told him that because my wife is Swiss, I know how the apprentice system works over there. About two-thirds of Swiss young people enter an apprentice program after finishing compulsory education (around the age of sixteen). The Swiss program is vocational but has elements of general education, with about 200 different programs to choose from, including banking and finance to technical training in all areas. It's also similar to the German system.
The good thing is that Swiss students who complete their three or four years of training, for which they get paid, also qualify for university if they want to further their education or, if not, they get a job right away. The good thing is that Switzerland has the lowest unemployment rate among young people in Europe, and the quality of the resulting training is demonstrated by the high quality of products and overall wealth in the country. In other words, the system works well.
This Swiss model could be applied over here, even though it would break the tradition of sending kids off to college after high school. It's clear, though, that with the cost of college going through the roof and college falling behind in preparing students for our work force, we need to re-examine our traditions and to consider other options.
At present, our vocational training programs do not meet the need because they are considered low level refuges for those unqualified for so-called "higher" education. President Obama doesn't help the situation by continually talking about providing a college education for everyone, when what is needed is instead a focus on finding solutions that don't include the word 'college.'
A gradual expansion of a real apprentice program, bringing in companies and professionals through tax incentives, with structural guidance from the Departments of Education and Labor, could be the beginning of a new era and a long-term solution to our jobs crisis. Clearly, some radical program has to be part of our recovery program, and it is also evident that what we are doing now doesn't meet the crisis.
Start your workday the right way with the news that matters most. Learn more