- U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos signed a memorandum of understanding with Swiss officials on Monday to encourage collaboration on apprenticeships. It brings a pledge from nearly two dozen Swiss companies with U.S. ties to help create thousands of training opportunities here, according to Inside Higher Ed.
- DeVos has trumpeted hands-on training programs as a way to make students more employable without high levels of student loan debt. She has pointed to their success in Switzerland where vocational training is a key part of education.
- Critics point out the challenges of scaling such programs and the need for more financing to support the necessary partnerships between the private sector and local colleges and universities.
Apprenticeships bring several economic benefits, including aligning curriculum with employer needs, reducing student debt and improving employment prospects, according to a recent report from The Aspen Institute. While there are more than 533,000 apprenticeship positions nationwide, the report notes, they still only represent about 0.3% of the workforce — a significantly smaller percentage than in other countries.
Meanwhile, a study from the Council of Economic Advisers in July noted the U.S. invests significantly less than other developed countries on workforce development. And other recent research has shed continued light on the growing skills gap in the U.S. and how cuts to workforce development programs could increase it further.
Yet, The Aspen Institute report explains, the push to create more apprenticeships has received bipartisan support and, increasingly, federal and state backing.
At a local level, Johnston Community College in Smithfield, North Carolina, announced this week it has received a grant of $198,986 from Duke Energy and Piedmont Natural Gas to provide on-the-job training at participating companies for students in the college's engineering degree and electrical certificate programs. And in June, the City Colleges of Chicago said it plans to assure more than half of its graduates have undertaken work-based learning opportunities by the time they graduate.
Tech companies like Pinterest, LinkedIn, Airbnb and others are also trying out the apprenticeships model, which lets them access a wider talent pool than traditional recruiting tactics would, according to Fast Company.