German Apprenticeship vs US/UK Uni-Jobless System

♠ Posted by Emmanuel in ,,, at 3/01/2012 11:39:00 AM
It is no big secret that there is a lack of good employment prospects for young people in Anglo-Saxon economies at the present time.* As I have illustrated, wages for US college graduates have been on a steady downward trend. At the same time, tuition fees are rising at a rate far outstripping the rate of inflation. This phenomenon is said to be driven by various (virtually broke) US states now charging the bejesus out of the students in their university systems--including those who previously could avail of significantly lower in-state tuition rates. Combine these two and you see that US higher education is a really lousy marketing prospect: pay far more, earn less. What a deal. Like the American dream, college education as a key to success is something of a sick joke. And of course that assumes you can find work at the current time which is far from guaranteed with youth unemployment (ages 16-24) being 18.4% in the US in 2010. Good luck with those increasingly onerous student debt loads, Joe College, as IOUs eclipse the $1 trillion mark in 2012.

The picture is no better in that other Anglo-Saxon economy the United Kingdom.The headline numbers are shocking: 21-year-old university graduates are nearly as likely (25%) to be unemployed as 16-year-old school leavers (26%) who have just taken their GCSEs. UK youth unemployment meanwhile has recently shot past the 1 million mark. If anything else, fees have risen at an even faster rate in the UK with tuition trebling to £9,000 at quality institutions and student protests breaking out all over Blighty. In the final analysis, however, it's the same banana for British students: pay far more, earn less (if uni grads can find work).

Being a practical sort, I think of myself as an educator first and a researcher second. IMHO, an "educator" doesn't deserve the title if s/he does not have an abiding interest in ensuring that one's students find work. Of course, the system does not often work this way in Anglo-Saxon institutions where professors are more concerned with publishing their work than ensuring that their students find work. It's a messed up priority system that brings you the results above.

Contrast these tales of Anglo-Saxon woe with the famed German apprenticeship system:
In Germany, seen by many as a model in this regard, a quarter of employers provide formal apprenticeship schemes and nearly two-thirds of schoolchildren undertake apprenticeships. Students in vocational schools spend around three days a week as part-time salaried apprentices of companies for two to four years. The cost is shared by the company and the government, and it is common for apprenticeships to turn into jobs at the end of the training. The youth-unemployment rate in Germany, at 9.5%, is one of the lowest in the EU. Apprentice-style approaches practised in the Netherlands and Austria have had similar results.
Contrary to what the same article quoted from above claims, the popular impression that the German model is driven largely by Germany's manufacturing exports is something of a stereotype which falsely excuses other from emulating Deutschland. David Soskice of "Varieties of Capitalism" fame highlights that the most popular apprenticeships are not necessarily export-oriented trades for males: auto mechanic, electrician, joiner, clerical worker and bank clerk. For women, they are: hairdresser, clerical worker, and medical assistant. The honest truth from manning agencies which should know what they're talking about is that the bulk of jobs in demand are not of the Thomas Friedman-ish "knowledge worker" variety but those of a more blue-collar sort. Yet they are quite remunerative once you get past biases against technical / vocational training.

It is high time we questioned why the Anglo-Saxon university system of higher education has gained more traction worldwide than the German apprenticeship system when the latter is more attractive in avoiding job-skill mismatches. There has been too much glamourization of university when the results obtained fall so far short of the mark. Perhaps it's a reflection of the Brits and Americans colonizing far more parts of the world to engage in the white man's burden. In any case, it's certainly an open question as to why so many other nations still pattern their educational systems on clearly broken societies than that of one which works. It is no coincidence that aside from having an excellent university system, Singapore also boasts the region's finest technical and vocational training.**

Make no mistake: American and British educational systems are dysfunctional not only in basic education but also higher education.*** It belies theories such as Douglass North's new institutional economics (NIE) that imply more efficient institutions thrive, especially if finding remunerative work is a goal. If so, the German model would have beaten the stuffing out of the Anglo-Saxon uni-jobless system a long time ago. Just as a rational consumer would on the balance prefer a German car to an American clunker or...well, they don't really make "British" cars anymore do should any number of countries adopt a system that works rather than one that doesn't. Like all hat, no cattle Obama once implied, change is needed away from the inefficient university system towards apprenticeships that are not only more likely to provide skills employers actually need but leave out the guesswork in choosing qualifications. Let Germany show us the way.

* There may even be an uptick in that American pastime of university shootings where they enjoy killing each other for the heck of it because of bleak prospects in this century, but that's another interesting hypothesis for another time. To get your Freakonomics on, try regressing university shooting deaths against the US unemployment rate.

** While the bulk of German school leavers go into apprenticeships, a little over a quarter do go into university education.

*** Moreover, I don't get why Americans keep complaining about a lack of job opportunities anyway when they are so b--chy about working with job satisfaction levels at all-time lows. That's modern America for you.

3/29 UPDATE: In crisis-hit Europe, Germany has just recorded a record low post-reunification unemployment rate. I guess some people know what they're doing.