TRAINING & DEVELOPMENT
The Growing Problem of Unites States’ Youth Unemployment
For the first time in last few decades, the United States’ unemployment rate is steadily dropping - hovering below six percent. However, with the aging population moving out of the labor force, comes an even bigger problem: skill mismatches. According to the latest figures, 9.3 million Americans are unemployed, in spite of 4.8 million job unfiled because businesses are unable to find people to fill them. Even with the advancing technology which has been transforming work across a wide range of sectors, more and more employers are finding it difficult to find workers with the skills to match new machines and business processes.
A very novel solution to this perennial problem, which has caught the attention of policymakers, educators, and employers is: dual-training. Last year, the Obama administration announced $100 million in apprenticeship grants, and will spend another $6 billion over the next year. With
vocational education falling out of fashion in America, less than 5 percent of people train as apprentices, in the construction sector. In Europe, vocational training also known as “dual training” is considered as a highly respected career path. Take for instance, Germany where around sixty percent of people train as apprentices in sectors as diverse as IT, banking, manufacturing, and hospitality.
In Germany, companies like Daimler, Bosch, and Siemens have a long-standing tradition of apprenticeship. Known as dual training, trainees during their apprenticeship split their days between classroom instruction at a vocational school and on-the-job time at a company. The theory learned in the class is reinforced by the practice at work. Trainees also learn more about work habits, responsibility, as well as the culture
of the company. They’re also paid for their time, including in class. This kind of arrangement lasts for three to four years, varying according to the sector.
The best thing about apprenticeships in Germany is that both the employer and the employee respect practical work. Germany employers don’t see apprenticeship as something for the atrisk youth or the struggling students. It’s nothing like the sort of corporate social responsibility we do in the US.
Their biggest aim is to create a worldclass talent pool. Executives in charge of such programs are often careful about who they hire. Trainers learn
quickly, and see learning as not just a necessary skill to thrive at workplace, but a responsibility. At an automotive plant in Mannheim, the apprenticeships are so popular that they receive about 3,000 applicants each year for 60 slots. At Deutsche Bank in Frankfurt, the number reaches 22,000 applicants for 420 slots.
Perhaps the most interesting aspect of this is that both employers and employees are looking at apprenticeship as shortterm training. With dual-training, trainees don’t just learn career-building skills, but are also able to develop analytical skills. With robots taking over in the near future, companies will need people who can solve problems. Dual training helps create a talent pool of skilled, thoughtful and self-reliant employees, who can improvise when things go wrong, and make things work better.
Perhaps, the best part of dual training is its flexibility. It’s flexible to an extent that the dual training model requires tracking. Kids in Germany choose at age 10 among an academic high school, a vocational training, or a mix of both. However, there’s a lot of scope for trainees to switch tracks later in their life. The students can always go back to school to earn a master craftsman certificate or a specialization. This type of educational reform, which banks on lifelong learning, has helped Germany bridge the skill mismatch gap.
It’s a distant dream for American companies to achieve the dual-training model without experiencing hiccups. Here’s why: it’s costlier than it seems to be. In Germany, companies have a different way of calculating the pay, where the figures range from $30,000 per apprentice to over $90,000. The figure is likely to be sky-high in the United States, where companies don’t just have to build the problem from scratch, but also pay for tuition, and help colleges become successful training partners.
The Siemens USA plant in North Carolina spends around $170,000 per apprentice. If more and more companies follow this model, a substantial amount from their business will simply go into costly apprenticeship programs. It’s hard to imagine American companies willing to look beyond ROI and focus on the long-term benefits of the dual training model. Perhaps, an even bigger challenge is that the dual training model requires centralization efforts. There has to be standardized curriculum, occupational profiles developed by the federal government in collaboration with the companies, educators, and union representatives. Apprentices in Germany learn the same skills following the same timetable, which guarantees a high-quality programs. The standardization also makes it possible for trainees to switch jobs later on in their lives.
Perhaps, the biggest obstacle is our attitude towards practical skills. Here, we consider apprenticeship as “blue-collar” work. It’s hard to imagine attitudes changing towards practical skills. We’re not suggesting that adapting to such a model is impossible. Drivers of such programs vary from country to country. In Germany, there’s a dire need for talent, as businesses want to train the future pipeline of leaders. In America, that’s for us to decide.