Transatlantic Approaches to Employment, Education, and Training

AICGS’ conference on March 13, 2015 on “Transatlantic Approaches to Employment, Education, and Training” brought together a group of experts from Germany, the UK, France, and across the U.S. The day was divided into three panels and a keynote, and included moderated discussions with the audience. The conference concluded a year-long project that examined apprenticeship systems in Europe and their relevance for efforts to expand workforce education opportunities in the United States. Please view the agenda here.

Panel 1: Engaging Business

The first panel looked at why businesses invest in strategies to ensure that their workers have the knowledge and skills they need to thrive in a modern economy. It consisted of corporate representatives in different sectors from both sides of the Atlantic who agreed that having an apprenticeship system is an important investment in the workforce and assists in creating a more reliable supply of skilled workers. Most of the countries represented have an aging workforce that is nearing retirement and there is a need to create the next generation of machinists, IT specialists, nurses, and other specialized workers.

However, hosting apprentices can be a costly investment as there is no guarantee that the student will stay with the company afterward. Some companies like Microsoft in the UK have developed apprenticeship programs primarily for companies in their partner network and retain only the best at the national headquarters. However, for many companies, apprentices trained for at least two to three years contribute directly to production and allow companies to recover their investment. Furthermore, apprenticeship graduates are highly loyal to their host firms, which significantly reduces employee turnover.

In Germany, most companies are able to work through their regional chambers of commerce, unions, and the Federal Institute for Vocational Education (BIBB, Bundesinstitut für berufliche Bildung) to ensure that training material and school curriculum are relevant to their needs. This is not the case in most other countries. Businesses generally need more access to designing the curricula at technical colleges. Finally, the panelists listed other ways that the government could encourage businesses to support apprenticeship programs, such as monetary incentives, payroll tax exemptions, and support for company-school partnerships.

David Brown Presentation Mirja Gaida Presentation Dominic Gill Presentation

Panel 2: Model Intermediaries

Schools, unions, and other training providers play a critical role in shaping successful workforce education programs. These “intermediaries” ensure that such programs are focused on the skills and job functions that employers value most. The second panel displayed the work of some of these intermediaries and how they function within their countries’ systems on the local, state, and federal levels.

Schools play a central role in the U.S., with community colleges leading the forefront of apprenticeship and other workforce training programs in most states. Central Piedmont Community College (CPCC), for example, is the premier workforce development resource for its county, and offers education services throughout North Carolina in partnership with businesses. The City University of New York (CUNY) consists of 24 institutions, including 11 senior colleges and seven community colleges. It exposes its students to a specific career path, leading them to six-year programs with companies. It works together with employers in programs such as Pathways to Technology (P-Tech) to fill the skills gap, increase diversity in the workforce, and to fulfill the responsibility of community development.

In other parts of the country, nonprofits focused on skills development have formed in a variety of sectors. One example is the SEIU Healthcare NW Training Partnership and Health Benefits Trust in Washington state that spearhead advances in workforce training for homecare workers. The partnership works with state authorities and a union to improve the skills of homecare workers and improve a career path that has traditionally not been desirable in the U.S.

In Germany, there is a very well established system to organize workforce training that consists of a wide variety of actors such as chambers of commerce, schools, companies, and labor unions. The Confederation of Skilled Crafts (ZDH) is one such umbrella organization that exists on a federal level to provide organization for training occupations ranging from automotive and health care trades to graphic design to shipbuilding

Christian Sperle Presentation

Keynote with Eric M. Seleznow, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Employment and Training Administration, U.S. Department of Labor

President Barack Obama outlined his plans to enhance job training in his 2015 State of the Union address. His administration plans to double the number of apprentices over the next five years and has proposed a $2 billion investment for community colleges. However, apprenticeship has a low reputation in the United States and more is needed to market such programs. Several members of the current administration recently took a trip to Europe (Germany, Switzerland, and the UK) to study this topic and learn from their systems. In order to make apprenticeship more appealing to young people, it is necessary to expand apprenticeship to new trades such as IT and cybersecurity and to other jobs that have not historically been associated with apprenticeship. In this context, the U.S. Labor Department announced $100 million in grant opportunities to fund registered apprenticeships for high-skilled jobs in “high-growth” industries.

Panel 3: Expanding Opportunities

While there are several exemplary national-level programs in Europe, state and local governments will play a critical role in expanding workforce education opportunities in the United States. This panel explored what lessons can be learned from Europe to expand promising programs in the U.S.

Most panelists agreed that public investment is key to developing a successful apprenticeship program in the U.S. There have been positive recent steps in this sense, such as the $100 million in grant opportunities mentioned by Mr. Seleznow in the keynote. Research and examples from other countries show that this is beneficial to the investors as well, as high quality apprenticeships are generally cost-effective for businesses. In the UK, the £25 million national marketing campaign that was recently launched by the government has been successful at attracting younger students and introducing non-traditional occupations to the workforce. They have been able to add 200,000 apprenticeships between 2010 and 2012.

Apprenticeship systems in the U.S. should offer linkages to university education by offering stackable, industry-recognized credentials, especially from non-traditional occupations. These credentials should be able to provide the apprentice currency in the job market and for further education. Toward this purpose, apprenticeship programs should also be proven to be substantial with a minimum period of training that can ensure that the student has obtained critical thinking and problem-solving skills beyond the minimum requirements of the job duties.

And finally, as discussed in the second panel, a strong intermediary system is necessary on all levels of society to develop classroom and practical training curriculum. The key players here were recommended to be governmental, non-profit organizations, and community colleges. There are already a number of successful intermediaries in the U.S., as noted above, but they need to be sustained through government support and encouraged to expand their partnerships with local businesses.

Tom Bewick Presentation Robert Lerman Presentation

Please contact Kimberly Frank at with any questions.

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March 13, 2015