The Case for European-Style Apprenticeship in America

More than half of US employers say the job candidates they’re meeting today haven’t been properly prepared even for entry-level jobs. That skills gap is projected to get worse.  Over the next decade, it’s estimated that 100,000 new technology jobs will open up every year, while just 60,000 qualified candidates will enter the workforce with them. Meanwhile, the cost of four-year private colleges is only going up.

Higher education is not one size fits all. Talented candidates need to have the hope of achieving upwardly mobile careers without signing on for decades of student debt.

One such pathway to consider is apprenticeship. Apprenticeship: an on-the-job training period to prepare someone for a new position that they already have. Across Europe, these programs are integrated into every industry, including competitive fields like engineering, banking, and healthcare. Each country takes a different approach. But generally, an apprenticeship divides a student’s time between a standardized curriculum and working alongside mentors in a professional setting. Apprentices usually have a contract with employers that includes some kind of compensation. Right now, more than 9.4 million Europeans throughout 27 nations are studying on apprentice tracks.

There are fears that, while adopting this model for America would lead to short-term employment gains, down the road it would leave workers jobless and unable to adapt once their specific skills become outdated. Essentially, that apprenticeship only serves to kick the current skills gap down the road to a few decades from now.

OpenClassrooms, the online learning platform that I co-founded, offers an apprentice-style experience that addresses these fears. Students are paired with dedicated mentors in their chosen industry who guide them through their coursework, and teach them the real-life skills they need for jobs in competitive fields. They’re also taught soft skills like interview prep, networking, and working with teams. This includes upskilling for people currently in their job who need to get up to speed on technological advancements in their field. We essentially future-proof people’s careers.

So far, the American business community is leading the charge for change. At this year’s Consumer Electronics Show, IBM and the Consumer Technology Association announced an apprenticeship coalition that OpenClassrooms is participating in. It includes more than a dozen members such as Walmart, SoftBank Robotics, and Toyota. And this isn’t just for the entry level – participants range from 18 to 59 years old. This coalition comes as other leading American innovators like Amazon, Microsoft, and Salesforce have launched their own apprenticeship programs in recent years.

American municipalities are experimenting with the apprenticeship model. California Governor Gavin Newsom has set an ambitious goal of 500,000 new apprentices in high-skilled programs by 2029. The idea also enjoys bipartisan approval at the federal level.

I am not suggesting that we throw away the current system, but rather that we enrich it with a real alternative to the four-year college degree. When adapted for the American economy, a robust apprenticeship model – one that prepares people for the in-demand tech jobs of today – would be an excellent solution.

Pierre Dubuc is the co-founder and CEO of OpenClassrooms, the world’s leading online education to employment platform.

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