by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
[P]lease, hold “The Apprentice” jokes, if you can.
The apprentice model, in which younger workers gain specialized skills by learning directly from veterans in a given trade through hands-on experience, has a long and venerable history in America—not just on Trump’s erstwhile reality TV show—and it’s one that we need now more than ever.
Currently there are millions of unfilled jobs for skilled workers across the country at a time when the labor force participation rate—the share of Americans actually working or looking for a job—is hovering at a four-decade low. That alone makes expansion of apprenticeship programs a sound policy. Details of Trump’s plan aren’t out yet, but the administration reportedly likes the existing programs because they’re funded largely by companies that do the training or by labor unions, and could be expanded without a major increase in federal spending.
These programs also serves [sic] what should be a larger national goal: reducing the number of young people seeking degrees at four-year colleges. For too long, Americans have prized college education as the sole pathway to a respectable middle-class life. Meanwhile, trade and vocational schools have gained a kind of stigma as the sort of places blue-collar and working-class types turn to as a last resort before becoming hooked on welfare and opioids.
That’s nonsense. Simply put, not everyone has to go to college for four years to have a productive, fulfilling career or gain entry to the middle class. For many people, especially working-class Americans in rural and semi-rural areas, college isn’t a realistic option but trade or vocational school is. Beyond that, keeping more of America’s youth out of our hopelessly politicized institutions of higher learning, and putting them to work as skilled laborers, might do the country real and lasting good.