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Apprenticeship Programs in a Changing Economic World

Eric A. Hanushek, Ludger Woessmann
Published Date: 
June 28, 2017
Brookings Institution
Brown Center Chalkboard

The nagging problem of significant numbers of youth leaving school unprepared for career employment has revitalized interest in vocational education, particularly apprenticeships. Support for vocational education comes from people across the political spectrum, from both labor and business groups, and from the popular media. The clearest manifestation in policy is President Trump’s executive order that calls for immediate expansion of existing apprenticeship programs while simultaneously disparaging the effectiveness of current education and training programs.

Recent evidence, however, suggests caution. In a knowledge-based economy, early employment gains with vocational training may lead to later problems when specific skills become obsolete and workers lack the ability to adjust to a changed economic environment.

Adapting to changed conditions is exactly the theme of much recent discussion about formerly middle-class jobs disappearing to technological advance. This situation will only be alleviated by building a strong educational foundation that provides workers with the ability to adapt as demands change. We should not think that expanded apprenticeships will provide this foundation. More likely they will reproduce the current skill mismatch for future generations.