While there are a number of reasons, the biggest seems to be that not going to college is considered a failure while the same is not true in Germany. Called the TVET, Germany has had an apprenticeship program in place that encourages students to apply for 2-3 year training contract that allows the public and private sector to partner and provide both additional education and practical on the job training – Germany has the lowest unemployment rate amongst the young.
On the other hand, you have companies that are severely constrained in their growth in the US because they cannot find people. Here is one frustrated CEO:”I wish that we could go to the school system and be able to hire machinists, tool and die makers…these 12 people that we’re trying to hire are keeping us from growing”. At the same time, “Most companies (American) don’t see technical and vocational training as one of its key responsibilities” according to Andreas Koening.
South Carolina has taken a totally different approach and launched a very aggressive apprenticeship program (thanks to the influence of a number of German companies there) and gone from 800 to 11,000 in a short time. This has helped them close critical skills shortages in manufacturing. In addition to the German influence, they also have public sector support in terms of tax credits. They have also gone beyond the traditional building trades and included nursing, pharmacy, IT etc., to expand the scope and interest. Brandon started during high school and is now working and going to college-“I get paid for my hours at work…and I get paid when I’m in class”. While not for everyone, this is clearly a path to middle class that has been missing for quite a few years.
Many other economies are starting to take notice and Germany is helping launch many localized versions of their TVET. Manufacturing work is much more sophisticated today than it ever was and the skills gap will continue unless companies figure out more creative ways of acquiring those skills (build them) instead of posting want ads and waiting and waiting and waiting. As Tom Perez (Labor Secretary) says, apprenticeships can be a sleeping giant for the US economy – if we can just convert the parents who keep thinking that a college degree is the only way for their kids. And they can always get a degree and have their employer pay for it – while they work. And we don’t need to restrict this approach only for manufacturing?