The HR Digest - - Content Features -

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.

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