According to the U.S. Department of Labor, in FY 2018 more than 238,000 individuals nationwide entered the apprenticeship system and 23,400 more were registered in apprenticeship programs across the nation. At least 3,229 new apprenticeship programs were established nationwide in the same year.
It is important to note that they include apprenticeships across a range of industries, not just manufacturing. Within our industry, national organizations dedicated to technical training, such as SkillsUSA, offer myriad opportunities for career development. Various statewide programs offer similar services. These programs are a good start, but more needs to be done; the U.S. lacks a nationwide apprenticeship program and could benefit from one.
In Germany and Switzerland, apprenticeships are the accepted norm. In fact, Switzerland’s three- to four-year programs graduate specialists who possess a mastery over any CNC machine. The benefits are obvious and numerous. A country’s economy is provided with a sustainable and skilled future workforce, manufacturers maintain productivity and their bottom line, and individuals enjoy gainful employment in a lucrative field where their specialized skills keep them in demand.
Apprenticeships keep the manufacturing industry strong and productive, and if they were a widely-accepted standard of practice, everyone would benefit. A nationwide program essentially generates a beneficial “pay it forward” situation.
Apprenticeships also help to mitigate any erroneous perceptions the public may have about the reality of working in the manufacturing industry. In Switzerland, for example, manufacturers host open houses where they invite the local community to their plants to show the next generation of skilled workers what manufacturing has to offer. A visit to a clean, high-end shop, with its impressive new technology, dispels that image of factory work as dark, dank, and dingy.
Not only are open houses a useful recruitment tool for apprenticeship programs, they’re an invaluable opportunity for individuals to see the advantages of a career in manufacturing. First-hand exposure to the manufacturing environment gets them enthused about considering an apprenticeship. College isn’t for everyone, and an apprenticeship is cheaper and shorter than the traditional university education.
Individuals in an apprenticeship program enjoy the best of both worlds: on-the-job training with classroom instruction. In a country with a standardized nationwide apprenticeship program, hiring happens quickly because graduates are equipped with a machinist certificate that shows a potential employer their exact qualifications. Apprenticeships send skilled workers down a stable career path that pays well.
Simply put, apprenticeships are worth the effort. Many employment sectors, including manufacturing, rely on apprenticeships to provide a skilled future workforce. And because so many industries depend on manufacturing, investing in apprenticeships is an investment in so much—individual workers, manufacturers’ productivity and bottom line, and the overall economy.
As exciting as the high-tech explosion is, it also poses a challenge: in the U.S., we don’t have a large enough pool of skilled workers who know how to operate machinery and tools. The situation will only grow worse if we continue producing such high-level machines and tools without devoting enough energy to training workers on how to keep pace with advances in technology. One solution to this obstacle? A nationwide U.S. apprenticeship program.
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