June 23, 2017
Emulating Germany’s Apprenticeship System Won’t Make America Great Again
We should not delude ourselves into thinking that Trump’s apprenticeship expansion will substitute for our failing K-12 schooling system.
By ERIC A. HANUSHEK
When U.S. President Donald Trump announced that he would expand the federal program on apprenticeships, interest in the job training plan picked up considerable steam. Those who hail the idea frequently look to Germany and its apprenticeship system for why this model might work. The German program is often credited with helping the country weather the international ﬁnancial crisis with very low unemployment rates, particularly of youth. In fact, German resilience during the 2008 recession led many European countries to send delegations to Germany to see how they could reproduce the German training system. Then-U.S. President Barack Obama took a closer look at Berlin’s success as well. So did a number of American state governments. The Trump executive order expanding apprenticeships pushes this interest to the next level..
But the German system is not a realistic model for the U.S. It relies on a very stratiﬁed education system along with regulated and heavily unionized labor markets. More importantly, its focus on entry-level job skills distracts attention from the much deeper problem of ensuring the general cognitive skills that are a prerequisite for long-term growth and productivity improvement. Indeed, President Trump's executive order is motivated by the observation that "federally funded education and workforce development programs are not eﬀectively serving American workers,” even as it veers oﬀ in a direction that could magnify the impact of these problems. The expansion of apprenticeships may be a stopgap measure to deal with some current labor market issues, but it is not going to solve the deep-seated U.S. skill problem.