Monday, March 5, 2012

Thoughts on apprenticeship from Tabarrok and Lerman

Alex Tabarrok talks about apprenticeship vs. traditional education here.

And Bob Lerman, a mentor of mine at the Urban Institute and American University, discusses apprenticeship in this interview.

Apprenticeship is a very appealing way of making human capital investments for several reasons:

1. It addresses the highly bifurcated distribution of human capital investment that we have in this country, with lots of youth dropping out of school and lots going to college. You want to strengthen the "middle class"? Generate more workers with mid-level skills. This is not a snobby "college is only good for some people" argument. This is an edifying "these dropouts are capable of a lot more and we need to give them more opportunities" argument.

2. Of course, the increase in community colleges attendance has addressed some of this need for more mid-level skills. But apprenticeship has an important advantage over community college: since it's done in conjunction with an actual job, the educational component of apprenticeship is providing skills that employers actually need. Community colleges are very closely tied to local business communities - they try to do a good job at this. But you can't beat having a (paid) relationship with an employer who is helping to design your education.

3. Similar to point #2, apprentices have jobs when they finish their studies by definition. There's no risk of mismatch. There's no risk of the depreciation of these skills as you search for the right job. You are working in a job that you have just finished training for.

4. Technical work doesn't need highly skilled workers. Physicians assistants and nurses can do a lot of what doctors do. Nursing assistants can do a lot of what nurses do. Technicians can do a lot of what engineers can do. This isn't a matter of deskilling - it's a matter of having a skills distribution that allows for flexibility when flexibility is needed.

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