Old and New Models for Tackling the Skills Gap

October 18, 2012 — 4 Comments

I got the chance to talk on NPR last year about ideas to deal with the jobs crisis. My perspective then, as it is now, was that education is the key. I don’t just mean a good high school education, which is obviously critical. I mean having the right set of educational choices when it comes to training for employment. One way to encourage this is by re-energizing apprenticeships, which have largely faded away over the last few decades in America. Why have apprenticeships faded away? I think it is because they have failed to keep up with many of the new fields that offer the best employment opportunities. I question why there are not more apprenticeships available in software development or design or even entrepreneurship. These disciplines, amongst many others, are ones that benefit from hands-on learning rather than conventional teaching. Universities are not necessarily the best place to train for these skills—in countries like Germany, a combination of training in the workplace with some supplementary college attendance has proven to be a very successful model.

Apprenticeship represents a mutual commitment between trainees and employers and ultimately benefits both. The retreat of apprenticeship has coincided with a change in attitude of many employers away from investing in the education of their workforce, toward an expectation that the education system should ‘manufacture’ the right ‘product’ for them to employ. I believe that if employers recommitted to the idea of apprenticeship they would reap significant rewards not only in terms of better trained employees, but also a less transactional, more purposeful workplace with significantly higher engagement and loyalty.

I recently came across a startup that, in the absence of a resurgence of apprenticeship, is letting prospective employees take matters into their own hands and train themselves before applying for a job. LearnUp, founded by Alexis Ringwald and Kenny Ma, lets employers post the training materials they usually use once they have employed someone. Applicants can then ‘learn up’ on the job before they apply, making them more competitive as applicants and reducing training time for employers. Companies like Whole FoodsKPMG, and Gap already have training programs available there. This seems like a great example of an innovative educational model that can reduce the skills gap and give those looking for employment a better shot at getting the jobs they want. What other innovative models exist for reducing the skills gap?

(posted also on my LinkedIn Thought Leader blog)

Tim Brown


4 responses to Old and New Models for Tackling the Skills Gap

  1. Skills gaps do exist in the economy, and they’re growing – it’s imperative that businesses, educators, officials and communities rally together and discuss ways to solve the problems at hand before they get worse.

    Career and technical education (CTE) is one solution to the problem. CTE has proven over time to deliver a return on investment: it boosts student achievement, raises career prospects/earning potential and also yields trained workers for the jobs of today – which curbs the emerging skills gaps in the economy.

    The Industry Workforce Needs Council is a new organization of businesses working together to spotlight these skills gaps and advocate for CTE as a worthy solution. For more information, or to join the effort, visit http://www.iwnc.org.

    Jason Sprenger, for the IWNC

  2. In Israel, one industrialist identified the skills gap as an issue of local financial stability and security – Stef Wertheimer. He established a set of training models aimed at creating the job force necessary to fuel his export industry and aid the local economy. The Zur Lavon Training Center, situated in Mitzpe Lavon in Israel has built new vocational high schools as well as more targeted training sessions for a mature workforce.
    check it out at: http://zur.co.il/en

  3. I like your take on apprenticeship for two reasons: (1) they are personal – the master and the apprentice develop a human relationship well beyond today’s OJT and ‘sink or swim’ approaches to training, (2) They take the time to develop and cultivate the full potential of the apprentice.

    On group people don’t pay much attention is Community Rehabilitation Programs. They specialize in vocational training for people with disabilities and disadvantages. We find that there are a lot of people who are low-skilled and simply require more time to make “work ready.” These folks can take 6 months to a year to truly prepare and even then, have a job coach (almost like an apprentice-master) to help them through.

    My larger point is that there are a lot of Americans in this position. For whom a hop, skip and jump through community college or training program won’t work. Who need more time to overcome whatever it was that left them with low job skills, lack of motivation, lack of connection to something larger than themselves and lack of someone to believe in them.

    Thanks for your post.



  4. The german model provides apprenticeships that go over 2 – 3 years. This gives students after leaving highshool more time to find there way into a working life and also a worldwide accepted education. And gives employers well equiped employees. Win – win for all.

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