#142 – Inside Our Industry – More Students Are Turning Away From College and Toward Apprenticeships

Posted on | Inside Our Industry

Apprenticeships continue to grow in popularity as a very viable alternative for young people as opposed to going to a college or university. We’ve always known that college isn’t for everyone. The following excerpts from a Wall Street Journal article looks at the positives of apprenticeships, but also considers potential negatives.

More Students Are Turning Away From College and Toward Apprenticeships
By Douglas Belkin, March 16, 2023, Wall Street Journal

Today, colleges and universities enroll about 15 million undergraduate students, while companies employ about 800,000 apprentices. In the past decade, college enrollment has declined by about 15%, while the number of apprentices has increased by more than 50%, according to federal data and Robert Lerman, a labor economist at the Urban Institute and co-founder of Apprenticeships for America.

Apprenticeship programs are increasing in both number and variety. About 40% are now outside of construction trades, where most have traditionally been, Dr. Lerman said. Programs are expanding into white-collar industries such as banking, cybersecurity and consulting at companies including McDonald’s Corp., Accenture PLC and JPMorgan Chase & Co.

Apprenticeships take many forms but generally pair students with a course of study focused on a particular occupation and practical work experience under the supervision of a mentor. Typically, employers pay costs associated with school as well as a wage. 

Some programs have boomed in popularity, with admission rates as competitive as those at some Ivy League universities.

The gap between the number of students going to college and those selecting apprenticeships is closing as many employers are struggling to find workers in the tightest job market in half a century. Meanwhile, more students say they are wary of enrolling in college for fear it will leave them in debt and holding a degree that hasn’t prepared them for a good job in a fast-changing labor market.

As a result, some employers say a mismatch has developed between the skills employers are seeking and the lessons students are learning in college and university courses. To address the mismatch, companies are dropping requirements for degrees for some jobs, and states are rebuilding the vocational-education pathways that were de-emphasized two generations ago when the nation adopted a college-preparatory path for nearly all students.

Companies such as Alphabet Inc.’s Google, Delta Air Lines Inc. and International Business Machines Corp. have responded by dropping college degrees as requirements for some positions and shifting hiring to focus more on skills and experience. Pennsylvania has cut college-degree requirements for some state jobs, and Maryland has set a statewide goal of 45% of high-school students starting a registered apprenticeship by 2031.

Research from other countries shows that success may be short-lived. Eric A. Hanushek, a Stanford University economist, said that the skills learned in an apprenticeship might not be of much help down the line.

“People get more specific skills in apprenticeship programs than they do in college and while that helps them enter the labor market with greater ease at the beginning of their careers, later in life their skills depreciate,” he said. “So at age 45 or 50 or 55, these people are less likely to stay in the labor market because their skills are less valuable.”

By contrast, a college degree offers a broader, general education, which “makes people more adaptable and able to learn new skills that show up later when the economy changes,” he said.

Employers might be getting the better end of the bargain because they are able to hire apprentices at relatively low wages, he said.

Source (Subscription to WSJ required to read full article)