Who Is an Apprentice?

Parke Nicholson

Parke Nicholson was previously the Senior Research Associate at AICGS. He was selected to participate in the Munich Young Leaders 2016 program at the 52nd Munich Security Conference. Previously, he worked at the Center for the National Interest and the Council on Foreign Relations. In 2008, he served on the foreign policy staff at Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign headquarters. He has also worked abroad in Austria and Germany: in 2005 through the Fulbright Program in Klagenfurt and in 2010-2011 as a Robert Bosch Foundation Fellow working in the German Foreign Office for the Coordinator of Transatlantic Cooperation and for Daimler AG’s Political Intelligence unit in Stuttgart.

Parke has recently published in Foreign Affairs, The National Interest, The Baltimore Sun, and the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung. He received his MA in International Relations from The Elliott School of International Affairs at The George Washington University and a BA in History and Violin Performance at The College of Wooster in Ohio.

While our focus in Europe has been on the broad structure of apprenticeship systems, we should not lose sight of the apprentices themselves.

Many times we have been told “no apprentice is alike.” This certainly is true given the varying ages and impressive experiences of those we met in Europe. Many enrolled in apprenticeship programs as early as 14 and on average were in their 20’s. They decided to become apprentices immediately after leaving compulsory education, after returning to civilian life from military service, after dropping out of expensive college programs, or after discovering they had graduated from college with skills no employer wanted.

Several highly motivated students we met represented the best that can be achieved with a robust apprenticeship system:

A woman in her early 20’s was completing a three-year apprenticeship program at a unique technical school in Hannover on the site of the World’s Fair in 2000. The school receives direct government funding for programs in printing, design, information technology, and TV production, but students also develop projects that help fund their programs. The young student we spoke with had some prior work experience after secondary school, but wanted to simultaneously build experience in the IT sector while getting a qualification. The school’s IT program combines theoretical and practical instruction; alternating two weeks at the school and then four weeks at an apprenticeship with a local firm. In Germany, employers do an initial screening of applicants and new apprentices usually have several months to test whether a new job fits their interests. Though she was initially interested in software development, she soon discovered, with the guidance of her employer, that her energy and entrepreneurial spirit was much more suited to a career in IT support.

An apprentice at Alcoa in Exeter, England went immediately into the British military after he turned 16 and was honorably discharged for medical conditions. This would be a difficult situation in the United States, where still over 20 percent of young veterans (age 18 to 24) are unemployed. In the UK, the young veteran had the chance to search online for apprenticeship opportunities through the National Apprenticeship Service. The maintenance and mechanical skills he learned in the military were successfully transferred thanks to a national qualification framework and a cooperative program between Alcoa and a local technical college. While he did not initially think of going to college, he will soon receive two nationally recognized qualifications in engineering and maintenance and is also being encouraged by his civilian peers to pursue a “foundation degree” (equivalent to an associate’s degree).

BAE Systems has offered apprenticeships since the 1950s and has recently introduced apprenticeships in business management and communications depending on the company’s hiring needs. At a location just south of London in Rochester, one young woman took advantage of this program and quickly adapted to her international work environment. She was able to take the general writing and critical thinking skills she was learning at school and directly apply them when writing professional correspondence and giving presentations during her apprenticeship. At the age of 18, the company was confident enough to send her on a business trip to the United States where her older American counterparts were shocked at how well she was able to communicate the interests of this leading manufacturer of high-tech defense systems.

None of the apprentices above initially chose the traditional pathway to college and two had families to support, which dissuaded them from taking on the rising costs of a college education. However, all are now more financially secure and motivated to pursue higher qualification thanks to apprenticeship. Both the United Kingdom and Germany have made made a conscious effort to develop and expand these alternative education pathways for their best and brightest.

The views expressed are those of the author(s) alone. They do not necessarily reflect the views of the American Institute for Contemporary German Studies.