Bring Back Apprenticeship Programs

construction workersIt might be time for a new definition of “quality education.” Unfortunately it may be corporate governance that is blocking the quality of our nation’s education system.

The traditional debate is between the conservatives, many from the corporate sector, who define quality education through testing, while liberals say it comes down in many instances to resources. A third option might be what European countries are doing, especially Germany. For the student who excels academically, college in Europe is a smart option and it is usually free. Here it’s becoming a debt, often taking decades for students to pay off. Granted, we have some of the best universities in the world, but it is becoming a very expensive option. For a strong majority of working class kids, having a solid apprenticeship system is quality education. Most would agree that students who were not on the college path would be much better off in an good apprenticeship program.

According to a recent Harvard Business Review article by Rosabeth M Kantor, we have about 4 percent of our kids in apprenticeship programs while German, Swiss and Austrian schools channel over 50 percent of their young under 22 into schools focusing on skilled trades — almost ten times as many on average than us. Furthermore, 80 percent of the U.S. apprenticeship programs are in the building trades; few if any are in fields related to manufacturing. When “high tech” became the craze, Europeans not only talk about “high tech” but “low tech” and also what they call “mid tech.” Mid tech is what many apprenticeship programs could be categorized as being.

Bill Clinton ran against George Bush the Elder on a platform that included advocating for European-style apprenticeship education. He won but Allen Greenspan’s new figures from the Fed about the deficit took the apprenticeship plan off the table. It also just happens that from a corporate point of view there might not be that much enthusiasm for good apprenticeship programs in America. They might want to cast their fate in countries with cheaper labor and there may well be a connection between corporate governance and how we run our schools.

European corporate boards are required by law to include representatives from the workforce .In Germany, its called codetermination. This idea was actually developed under American supervision after World War II and has had a profound affect on things like CEO salaries, whether a company shifts their production offshore and as a consequence what skills the domestic workforce needs and what that education system will look like.

Progressive economist Dean Baker recently joked about Rod Blogoyivich in his excellent book Loser Liberalism, calling what the ex-governor tried to pull “child’s play” compared to what happens in hundreds if not thousands of corporate boards rooms across America. CEOs and corporate board members frequently bribe each other with outrageous CEO salaries in exchange for incredibly ‘plum’ board positions that usually call for six or so half-day meetings a year for $200,000 to $300,000. With workers on the board of a corporation, that would not happen. In fact, in Europe CEOs are competing very well against U.S. top brass but working for a tenth of what their competitor American executives compensation packages look like. The U.S. boardroom quid pro quo is how they pull it off the huge salaries.

Also, a board with workers on it would not support quickly exporting their coworkers, let alone their own jobs overseas. A managerial and shareholder-dominated board will frequently put profits in front of the workforce. Add to that the call for shortterm profits, the likelihood of outsourcing becomes even more logical.

This also may be why we as a country have opted for a system of higher education built almost exclusively on college. We almost believe that college will solve all our problems. While 27 percent of our kids go to college less than 17 percent of German kids follow that path but a majority of their kids are in apprenticeship program learning skills and eventually earning good wages.Almost ten times as many are picking up skills especially manufacturing skills.

The process of how the CEOs run a Ponzi scheme for huge salaries is bad enough but it has de-industrialized our communities and driven working class prosperity into a “U turn.” They have also helped produce a young working class designed for low-wage service sector jobs.

When the issue of a national industrial policy comes up, opponents of an industrial policy often argue that with such a policy we would be “picking favorites.” When industry has codetermination corporate governance and its harder to flee to low-wage havens, companies are forced to produce domestically, indirectly creating a industrial policy. Of course, on top of that corruption we have a political system diseased by corporate PAC money and now the Super PACs designed for corporate political dominance.

Progressives and others who support the 99 percent would have a compelling argument if they highlighted the connection between a quality working class, apprenticeship-focussed education system and how corporate governance and the 1 percent not only corrupt our democracy but also run “compensation Ponzi schemes” while also shortchanging our kids of educational possibilities.

craig williamsWe would get a whole new perspective with a discussion with working class and especially inner city families giving them the option of apprenticeship-based education. I am pretty certain you would see that a majority of families would prefer an apprenticeship approach, neither what the conservatives nor liberals have to offer.

Unfortunately, they are the last people to have a say in their schools or their children’s educational options.

Craig Williams


  1. Gary100dm says

    And Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) is proposing closing all adult education, all adult career, computer, trades education throughout the district. 

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