The Apprentices

If anyone would like to discuss President Trump’s proposal for an expanded role for apprenticeship programs in America…and related broader issues of workforce training and skills development…this is the place.  Some useful links:

Trump’s remarks on signing the executive order

Text of the executive order

Comments by Ivanka Trump and Labor Secretary Alex Acosta

Existing Federal regulations re apprenticeship programs

(There are also state regulations)


12 thoughts on “The Apprentices”

  1. normal employer-employee relationship that includes substantial training?…I guess maybe the idea is to prevent fraud by employers promising great things in exchange for relatively low pay…but employers can do that anyhow without calling it an Apprenticeship. The other reason for government involvement may be to provide some level of transferability between companies.

    Anyhow, Trump did not create the existing DOL regulations, which strike me as pretty burdensome, my impression is that his intent is to devolve some of the government responsibilities out onto industry trade associations, etc.

  2. From the current DOL regulations:

    “Every apprenticeship instructor must:

    (i) Meet the State Department of Education’s requirements for a vocational-technical instructor in the State of registration, or be a subject matter expert, which is an individual, such as a journeyworker, who is recognized within an industry as having expertise in a specific occupation; and

    (ii) Have training in teaching techniques and adult learning styles, which may occur before or after the apprenticeship instructor has started to provide the related technical instruction.”

    There are plenty of people in businesses and I’m sure in other kinds of organizations who teach employees very well without having “training in teaching techniques and adult learning styles”…..this is along the lines of the public school requirement for Education degrees, though not as extreme since it is pretty vague.

    Overall, the regs strike me as burdensome and a significant deterrent to setting up an apprenticeship program.

  3. Apprenticeships in the skilled trades in Britain were largely killed off by the trade unions agitating endlessly for the apprentices to be paid so much that they were no longer worthwhile for the employer.

    There had also existed apprenticeships in the professions so that, for example, you could qualify as an accountant or a solicitor or an engineer without going to university. I suspect, but do not know, that they were killed by the professional bodies demanding a degree for entry.

  4. There’s an interesting description of a 1930s apprenticeship, in Germany, in the memoirs of jet-engine pioneer Gerhard Neumann. From my review of the book:

    “A 2- or 3-year machinist or mechanic apprenticeship was mandatory for admission to any German engineering academy: Neumann’s father asked the 10 cab drivers of Frankfurt/Oder to recommend the garage where they thought the boy would learn the most, and the answers were unanimous: Albert Schroth’s. So began Gerhard Neumann’s apprenticeship, which, other than the technologies involved, could have been something out of the Middle Ages. “In winter my hands were frozen purple. Wear work gloves? ‘What’s the matter, boy, are you a girl?’ When my hands were bleeding, Herr Schroth pointed to the large bottle of iodine in the backroom and mumbled something about faules Fleisch (lazy flesh.) No Band-Aids, no pitying, no time out.””

    Neumann says the while Germans desiring to enter engineering school were required to complete apprenticeships, the Nazi government–hungry for foreign exchange–had decided to exempt foreigners from this requirement. He believed that those who had gone the apprenticeship route were far more likely to become good engineers:

  5. Ending High school after sophomore year would be a better driver of this, but every step this direction is better the what we have now.

  6. “There’s an interesting description of a 1930s apprenticeship, in Germany, in the memoirs of jet-engine pioneer Gerhard Neumann”

    I started a comment about this yesterday but got distracted. My nephew, who went back to college and graduated after a Marine Corps stint in Japan, did an elevator union apprenticeship. He completed that and went to work for an elevator company. He fairly quickly was promoted into management.

    Neuman’s book is very interesting. The combination of apprenticeship and university for the book learning, seems a worthwhile combination for technical fields.

    Internship in medicine used to be something of an apprenticeship.

  7. Commercial airline pilots are a sort of hybrid apprenticeship. They take training plus get on the job experience. Often this is at lower pay for regional airlines who pay for a lot of the training. This is the model for jobs like plumbing, welding, etc. were there is enough formal classroom training required that you can’t just drop them into the shop to learn.

    I think the competency certificate route pushed by computer programmers is a good model. Pile up enough certificates and you can match your self to a job.

  8. On-the-job (OJT) training coupled with some academic course prep in a tech institute would be viable if the trainees were obligated to work for the company investing in them. A contract for say 10 years in exchange for apprenticeship in a high skill field such as welding would ensure both the apprentice and the company were serious about the outcome.

    The problem with turning over the certification, training or recruiting to either a trade union or governmental agency (including schools) is that they have perverse incentives that serve neither the applicant or the employer. You got to have skin in the game or this becomes a credentialing mill, feather bedding dead weight loss. Job Corps, etc. The market will weed out the short term grifters. Companies know their job requirements and would manage the costs.


  9. dearieme Says:

    >> There had also existed apprenticeships in the professions so that, for example, you could qualify as an accountant or a solicitor or an engineer without going to university. I suspect, but do not know, that they were killed by the professional bodies demanding a degree for entry.

    Also for lawyers. That’s how Abraham Lincoln became a lawyer. He never wnet to college. He read a lot starting around 1827 and became an anti-Andrew Jackson man.

    And also, in part, Supreme Court Justice Robert H. Jackson (1892-1954) who was also the American prosecutor at the Nuremberg trial of the remaining top Nazis in 1945-6.

    “Jackson decided on a legal career; since attendance at college or law school wasn’t a requirement, if a student learned under the tutelage of an established attorney, at age 18, he began to study law with the Jamestown, New York firm in which his uncle, Frank Mott, was a partner.[6]

    His uncle soon introduced him to Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who was then serving as a member of the New York State Senate.

    Jackson attended Albany Law School from 1911 to 1912.[7] At the time, students at Albany Law School had three options: taking individual courses without receiving a degree; completing a two-year program and receiving an LL.B. degree; or demonstrating the knowledge required of a first-year student and then taking the second year of the two-year program, which produced a certificate of completion.[8]

    Jackson chose the third option; he successfully completed the second-year courses, and received his certificate in 1912.[8]”

    Nurses also used to get trained as apprentices. Now they need a minimmum of 2 years college. It’s all done through college and the nurses associations want to make it a 4-year program. They pick up book knowledge – because understanding what is going on and why is important for avoiding mistakes, but don’t get so much practical experience. These days they are very much wary of letting a student nurse touch a patient.

  10. Coolidge also “read” law and in an important distinction to many modern politicians, actually earned his living as a practitioner before taking up politics. I strongly recommend Amity Shlaes’ biography.

    My father graduated with an Electrical Engineering degree in the early 50’s, after serving with the Air Corps/Air Force, working in my grandfather’s hardware store that also sold farm and mining equipment and earning money fixing radios on the side. When he started to work with the electric utility, he was told that they expected it would be 5 years before he would be working on his own rather than under direction of a senior engineer. Clearly, Public Service recognized that there was more than was covered by formal schooling.

    At the same time, both the utility and the electrical contractor he worked for later, were IBEW (union) shops. The apprenticeship program was rather rigorous: 8,000 hours of work experience, explicitly portioned out between industrial, commercial and residential construction so that it was almost impossible for an full apprenticeship to be served at a single employer. There was an extensive list of formal course work on top of this. Much of this was by correspondence but some was in class. My father was involved in teaching some of these classes. I remember “auditing” one when I was about 14 on splicing high voltage underground cables. They were oil soaked paper insulated in a lead sheath. The procedure was plumbing with close attention paid to clearances and insulation. Even with a PhD, he wouldn’t have qualified as a teacher under the DOL because he had never taken any “education” education.

    The master union contract specified that jobs had to employ a minimum proportion of apprentices. It was recognized that first year apprentices probably cost more than they were worth but that this was balanced by third and forth year apprentices that were probably a bargain. My father felt that it did a reasonable job providing competent electricians and linemen.

    My experience with recent graduates of a number of engineering programs is that the diploma doesn’t denote the knowledge of which end of a screwdriver is which, or even much of a desire to find out in some cases. More troubling, is that they don’t seem able to apply the most basic engineering discipline; systematically breaking down and quantifying some problem as way of solving it. This is what engineering is, once you know the numbers, it’s often trivial to find the answer. Even I have been known to do it.

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