Commentary: Can't Find Skilled Workers? Start an Apprenticeship Program

The Friday, January 17, 2014 Wall Street Journal includes an opinion piece by Peter Downs on the need for more apprenticeship programs titled, "Can't Find Skilled Workers? Start an Apprenticeship Program."  Fittingly, the article was on the opinion page, because it took a serious theme (the need for more apprenticeship programs) with which we wholeheartedly agree but wrapped in unsubstantiated opinion with no evidence to support his accusations aimed at the business community. 

Mr. Downs, editor of the St. Louis Construction News and Review, unfortunately begins his otherwise noteworthy opinion piece with generalizations not backed up with any statistics or evidence, such as: 1) "American businesses typically want someone else—trade schools, community colleges, universities or even the federal government—to train their future employees."  2) "If potential future job seekers haven't been provided with the training they need, many businesses expect job seekers to take all the responsibility on themselves, often taking on serious debt without any guarantee of future employment." 3) "...many American employers are slashing training budgets" and, 4) employers are "running employment software that rejects every applicant who doesn't already have the perfect combination of training and experience to perform the job on day one. 5) Then employers lament that job applicants don't already know how to do the jobs that they want them to do.

I'm not sure what the subscribers of the St. Louis Construction News and Review tell Mr. Downs, but our members, 355 of the nation's largest employers, tell a very different story.  1) Employers spend billions of dollars each year on training. The Department of Labor estimated that in 2010 alone, the private sector spent $53 billion in job training.  Later studies, such as one done in 2013 by Georgetown University, show the majority of career and technical training is provided by employers debunk this misperception.  2) Employers do expect job seekers to have invested some time and effort in learning a skill or subject matter.  This is one of the basic tenets of how the labor market works.  Individuals, choose a skill or subject matter of interest to them, master the field of study by completing a degree or certificate and then pursue a degree in that profession.  That is how job seekers come to better understand what they like, what they are good at and the type of work they want to do in their career.  But job seekers are not abandoned in this effort.  Many employers provide scholarships, internships and in some cases even loan forgiveness programs for students who demonstrate potential.  There are many variables involved in the degree of risk and debt related to earning a college degree.  Helping students reduce that risk and make better informed educational and career choices is why the employer member companies of HR Policy Association have come together to create, a career advice site where hiring representatives from large companies make themselves available to answer questions from those who are entering the workforce and who are trying to make good decisions.  3)  The employers we speak with everyday continue to invest heavily in the training of their employees and know this is an important strategy to ensure they have a qualified and capable workforce that will help them stay competitive.  In fact, the majority of employers I've spoken with are not cutting their training budgets.  Others who say they have seen a drop in their training costs report that is because advancements in computer based training and online training is actually allowing them to accomplish more with less.  4)  I will agree that companies do, as charged by Mr. Downs, screen applicants to find the most capable and qualified workers to build the world's safest airplanes, cars, lifesaving medical devices and other products and equipment and the American consumer is better for it.  To suggests employers should do otherwise,  is illogical on its face.  I think you get my point, so I'll stop there.

While, Mr. Downs raises excellent points about the need for more apprenticeship programs, those points unfortunately come after a couple of paragraphs of anti-employer rhetoric.  I would still recommend the article to you, but I would suggest you just start at the third paragraph.