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Can the United States Expand Apprenticeship? Lessons from Experience


  • Robert I. Lerman


Can expanded apprenticeship reduce the concerns about the U.S. workforce? The U.S. labor market faces a rise in unemployment rates, sharp declines in the employed share of U.S. adults, extremely high youth unemployment, high wage inequality, and low or stagnant wage growth for workers below the BA degree. Currently, the primary solution advanced by policymakers—helping more people go to college—is both expensive and of limited effectiveness. Unfortunately, the U.S. policy debate is rarely informed by international experience with systems that prepare young people for careers, especially for technical occupations. Few if any cite the experience in Germany, Switzerland, and Austria in achieving high levels of income and relatively low levels of earnings inequality without a college graduation rate above the OECD average. Americans know little about the success of apprenticeship systems abroad nor are they or their political leaders aware of the growth of apprenticeship programs in Australia, England, and other advanced economies. Given the potential for expanded apprenticeship to deal effectively with skill mismatches, wage inequality, declines in manufacturing employment, and high youth unemployment, why has the U.S. failed to mount a significant apprenticeship initiative? A number of reports, including the Organization for Economic Development and Cooperation (OECD 2009) review of youth employment, have recommended expanding apprenticeship training yet failed to stimulate significant action. Apprenticeship training would seem consistent with American values of pragmatism and extensive use of the market and publicprivate collaborations, and a limited role for government. The paper begins by describing the existing U.S. apprenticeship system, how the system evolved, and measures of its effectiveness. The next sections examine the multiple barriers to expanding apprenticeship in the U.S., highlighting both ideological and practical obstacles. The final section describes how best to take advantage of the opportunities for expansion.

Suggested Citation

  • Robert I. Lerman, 2012. "Can the United States Expand Apprenticeship? Lessons from Experience," Working Papers 2012-18, American University, Department of Economics.
  • Handle: RePEc:amu:wpaper:2012-18

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Gueorgui Kambourov & Iourii Manovskii, 2009. "Occupational Specificity Of Human Capital," International Economic Review, Department of Economics, University of Pennsylvania and Osaka University Institute of Social and Economic Research Association, vol. 50(1), pages 63-115, February.
    2. Morris M. Kleiner & Alan B. Krueger, 2013. "Analyzing the Extent and Influence of Occupational Licensing on the Labor Market," Journal of Labor Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 31(S1), pages 173-202.
    3. Joshua Haimson & Lara Hulsey, "undated". "Making Joint Commitments: Roles of Schools, Employers, and Students in Implementing National Skill Standards," Mathematica Policy Research Reports 6f00307c44bd42dda7303cc82, Mathematica Policy Research.
    4. Sullivan, Paul, 2010. "Empirical evidence on occupation and industry specific human capital," Labour Economics, Elsevier, vol. 17(3), pages 567-580, June.
    5. Joshua Haimson & Jeanne Bellotti, "undated". "Schooling in the Workplace: Increasing the Scale and Quality of Work-Based Learning," Mathematica Policy Research Reports bee95e68835a4d36a73199a3c, Mathematica Policy Research.
    6. Wojciech Kopczuk & Emmanuel Saez & Jae Song, 2010. "Earnings Inequality and Mobility in the United States: Evidence from Social Security Data Since 1937," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 125(1), pages 91-128.
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    Cited by:

    1. Pierre Cahuc & Stéphane Carcillo & Ulf Rinne & Klaus Zimmermann, 2013. "Youth unemployment in old Europe: the polar cases of France and Germany," IZA Journal of European Labor Studies, Springer;Forschungsinstitut zur Zukunft der Arbeit GmbH (IZA), vol. 2(1), pages 1-23, December.
    2. Werner Eichhorst & Núria Rodríguez-Planas & Ricarda Schmidl & Klaus F. Zimmermann, 2015. "A Road Map to Vocational Education and Training in Industrialized Countries," ILR Review, Cornell University, ILR School, vol. 68(2), pages 314-337, March.

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    JEL classification:

    • J24 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Demand and Supply of Labor - - - Human Capital; Skills; Occupational Choice; Labor Productivity
    • J08 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - General - - - Labor Economics Policies
    • I28 - Health, Education, and Welfare - - Education - - - Government Policy


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