Old and New Models for Tackling the Skills Gap

October 18, 2012

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)