Thursday, May 9, 2013

Robert Lerman on Apprenticeships in The Washington Post


The point on the skills gap complicates the picture that I've presented in the past. Lerman and his co-author write:
"The skills gap is real. U.S. unemployment remains at 7.5 percent, and only one out of two African American men in their early 20s has a job. A survey of employers published last year revealed that about 600,000 jobs go unfilled because of a lack of skilled labor. Meanwhile, German companies’ top complaint about expanding operations in the United States is an inadequate number of skilled workers for intermediate-level technical occupations. Swiss companies have the same complaint. The problems lie not with college-educated engineers or graduates with general bachelor’s degrees but in the dearth of skilled machinists, welders, robotics programmers and those who maintain equipment."
I'll provide my standard line to not just trust what employers report (and I don't think Bob does). But a different issue is raised here: the presence of absence of institutions able to supply a certain type of human capital.

The point with the STEM workers I've discussed is that we have thousands of science and engineering departments in this country and anyone can choose to major in those fields if they want to. There are no obvious institutional constraints on a smoothly functioning STEM labor market. It's a somewhat different picture with the mid-level skills that apprenticeships supply. We are doing better than we were with the growth in community colleges, but there's not the same sort of institutional basis for supplying these skills, which is where apprenticeships come in.

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