Can German-Style Apprenticeships Save America?

♠ Posted by Emmanuel in ,, at 9/15/2014 01:30:00 AM
Stamping out ignorance and providing work is the German way.
There's an excellent feature in the WSJ on German firm Festo, a supplier to German firms like VW and Mercedes-Benz, following these MNCs Stateside. Not only is it bringing manufacturing know-how to the US but also vocational knowledge in the form of the German apprenticeship model. The latter has proven to be more successful in avoiding the job-skill mismatches prevalent in US higher education. Festo even has a specialized unit dedicated to training. After all, what is the point of having an ever-increasingly expensive college degree in the face of ever-decreasing job opportunities?

Unfortunately, most Anglophone universities haven't bothered answering this question, staffed as they are by inveterate rent-seekers with a vested interest in propagating the College Myth. So, it's up to prospective employers from more enlightened parts of the world to pick up the slack. Just in time, the Germans are here to help the Yanks:
German robotics company Festo AG wants to make American factory workers more tech-savvy. As robotics take an ever more prominent role on factory floors, training workers and keeping their skills up-to-date has grown in importance. The German company sees in the U.S. "a mismatch in the labor market between what businesses need and the kind of education young people are getting," said Nader Imani, chief executive of Festo Didactic, the company's stand-alone education division. 
Labor economists see things the German way. Instead of all this guff about the knowledge economy and other vapid American happy talk only nitwits buy into, the truth is that many jobs of the future will require skills somewhere between a high school and a college degree. It is, quite frankly, financially insensible to pay for a college degree without any idea of what sorts of jobs they will help you get afterwards. Consider the US labor market going forward:
Anthony Carnevale, a labor economist who runs Georgetown University's Center on Education and the Workforce, says roughly two million U.S. jobs go unfilled because of shortfalls in skills, training or education. Of those, roughly 600,000 are jobs that require more than a high-school diploma but less than a bachelor's degree. Mr. Carnevale predicts roughly one-third of U.S. job openings through 2020 will require such middle skills, with a vocational certificate, industry-based certification, some college credits or an associate degree—but not a classic four-year college degree.

American training in these areas has deteriorated since the early 1980s, he said. German companies with operations in the U.S. have complained for years that factory workers lack specific skills they require to get the job done. Executives and American policy makers have said the U.S. could benefit from Germany's approach to apprenticeships and on-the-job training. "The German system coordinates employees need with what employers want pretty well," said Joseph Parilla of the Brookings Institution, an expert on competitiveness. 
Americans have a deservedly bad rap for the quality of their education. Spend a lot and get little and return is the operative principle. Instead of copying the American uni-jobless model, there is a much better case for the rest of the world to copy the German apprenticeship model. The world's young people deserve so much better since the honest truth is that not everybody is going to be the next Silicon Valley billionaire. Rather, most would be quite happy to receive the appropriate training for jobs that actually exist instead of going on a wild goose chase with an uncertain ending.

Unfortunately, the latter represents the state of US higher education as far as employment opportunities are concerned replicated the world over. Let Germany show us the way.