Relevancy of Apprenticeships
During our apprenticeship tour of Germany, France, and the UK, I was impressed at the respect that the general population held for apprenticeship programs. One of our taxi drivers in France was proud to tell us that his son finished his apprenticeship in construction and at the age of 21 is buying his own house and starting up his own business with his classmates. An apprentice we met at Alcoa in Exeter used his degree as a stepping stone to university, where his apprenticeship certification was recognized. We met an IT instructor in Hannover who told us of a time that a visiting TV repairman started talking with him about how pleased he was that his son just graduated from an apprenticeship program, only to show him the certificate and realize that the son was the instructor’s student.
There are many reasons to be proud of an apprenticeship graduate in these countries. But an underlying factor was the foundational courses that are integrated with the specific job skills being taught in the program. Apprenticeship programs are more respected when the schools add on reading comprehension, language classes, social studies, and mathematics. The time spent at the company should teach the apprentices soft skills of collaborating with others, respecting safety regulations, and hard work. The result is not only a higher level of respect for the apprenticeship program on the behalf of the general public, but a higher literacy level for the country, and relevancy of the apprenticeship to the apprentices’ long-term career.
For example, an engineering teacher at a local feeder school to the Alcoa program in Hannover showed us how he integrated a number of foundational lessons in his course. His lesson plans teach the history of the machines that they are working with, provide reading comprehension exercises for what they just learned, and practical examples of how their skills can be relevant for other areas of life. He also provides math lessons to better understand the mechanical work they are doing at Alcoa. In order to catch the attention of young apprentices, he links the work that they do to a broader theme, such as showing them the movie “Titanic” and explaining how the story is about nuts and bolts in the hull of the engine that weren’t engineered correctly. We in the U.S. should not underestimate the value of this type of integrated curriculum during the development of our own apprenticeship programs.