Before I get into today’s post, here’s a brief report on this week’s ATD EXPO in Atlanta.  From friends and business acquaintance phone calls, they believe that two subject areas stand out this year:  1) LMS-like technology (no surprise) and Microtraining (which has been on the horizon for some time and is now beginning to explode — and, in my opinion, all for good reason.  Today’s learner demands it and rejects the in-your-seat half hour/hour e-Learning program or lecture.)

 Now for today’s topic. 

In one of the most apropos columns I have read, “Bring Back the Apprentice,” published in THE WASHINGTON POST, an alternative to formal education is argued.  The authors, Stuart E. Eizenstat (former chief White House domestic policy adviser to President Jimmy Carter and undersecretary of commerce for international trade in the Clinton administration) and Robert I. Lerman (an economics professor at American University and a fellow at the Urban Institute) have hit the bull’s-eye with their superb reasoning: 

The United States is on the verge of a manufacturing comeback . The domestic energy boom and low natural gas prices, together with competitive wage rates, can lead to a resurgence and the potential revival of goods-producing industries that could provide a great opportunity to increase middle-class wages, reduce income inequality and expand social mobility. But we also risk squandering this historic opportunity — mainly because firms interested in investing in the United States are finding too few workers with the skills needed to achieve the productivity and quality required in today’s globally competitive industries.

 The skills gap is real. U.S. unemployment remains at 7.5 percent, and only one out of two African American men in their early 20s has a job. A survey of employers published last year revealed that about 600,000 jobs go unfilled because of a lack of skilled labor. Meanwhile, German companies’ top complaint about expanding operations in the United States is an inadequate number of skilled workers for intermediate-level technical occupations. Swiss companies have the same complaint. The problems lie not with college-educated engineers or graduates with general bachelor’s degrees but in the dearth of skilled machinists, welders, robotics programmers and those who maintain equipment.

 The central answer to the mismatch between jobs and employment is a 21st-century apprenticeship program. In Austria, Germany and Switzerland — countries with long histories of guilds and craftwork — 55 to 70 percent of all young people enter apprenticeships. Apprenticeships have grown rapidly in other countries, tripling in Australia since 1996 and jumping tenfold — to more than 500,000 entrants last year — in England since 1990. The Group of 20 ministers of labor, the International Labor Organization and the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development strongly recommend expanding apprenticeship programs.

Apprenticeships could help reduce youth unemployment, widen opportunities for young people who do not want to sit in class all day and help ensure that the potential resurgence in manufacturing is not thwarted by a mismatch of skills. With effective apprenticeship systems, highly developed economies sustain jobs in manufacturing. Employment in manufacturing accounts for 20 percent of jobs in Germany and 16 percent in Switzerland but only 10 percent in the United States.  .  .  .”

When I started in this business more than four decades ago, apprentice training in our larger manufacturing companies was standard practice.  However, over time those companies opted to turn over their training programs to local community colleges.  And, that transition has not worked.

Why?  Primarily because the faculties in our community colleges (brought up in the “lecture – reading – testing” model), too often, failed to transition their teaching approaches to today’s video, simulation, games and interactive learning technologies (all ingrained in the learning culture of our young people).

The unfortunate result of those lost apprentice programs has handcuffed American industry.  Compared to other countries, American front-line workers lag far behind in the sophisticated skills needed for a country to compete internationally:  communications, math, science, conceptual thinking, flexibility, responsiveness, and technological expertise.  These are skills that most front-line workers in Japan and European countries possess, to the ultimate economic benefit of their countries. 

What these other nations have learned about education and the workforce has been translated into comprehensive training programs for the non-college-bound student.  These programs all but obliterate the conventional lines between education and training.

America’s blue collar workforce is our lifeblood.  These smart, talented individuals create, build and mold this nation’s future.  They are among our leading citizens and have well earned the highest respect from all Americans. 

Without a highly trained workforce we will find ourselves at a disadvantage to the rest of the developing world. 

As Eizenstat and Lerman conclude:

The United States’ academic-only strategy is ill-suited for a diverse population and for the multiple needs of the 21st-century labor market. A robust apprenticeship system would ensure that the impending manufacturing expansion succeeds in macroeconomic terms and widen the routes to rewarding careers for millions of workers.”

Have a good Memorial Day weekend.  More next Wednesday  –  –  –

    — Bill Walton, co-Founder, ITC Learning

     May 24, 2017

  (Mondays & Wednesdays)

 (This is a personal blog.  Any views or opinions represented in this blog are personal and belong solely to the blog owner,, an independent consultant.  They do not represent those of people, institutions or organizations that the owner may or may not be associated with in a professional or personal capacity.)