Provocative Thoughts: Apprenticeship built America, can it build America again
Editor’s Note: This is part of a series of opinion pieces by Mike Zdunich, a senior communications major at UWF. Through his Provocative Thoughts column, Mike will present new and nuanced ways to think about important issues.
By Mike Zdunich
A professor describes the exact steps required to drive a car flawlessly to a classroom full of university students who have never driven cars — from leaving a parking lot to driving on the freeway and parking again — before ending the lecture. At the end of the lecture, all of the students are handed drivers licenses without physically entering and operating a motor vehicle. Would anyone consider this a rational approach to teaching someone how to drive a car? This is the approach that we in the United States have taken to train our modern-day workforce.
Today’s human resources environment is largely based upon required online applications with specific search words and quizzes that cull applicants based on past big-data analytics before job seekers have the opportunity to meet a human — or even a local human resources representative.
This requirement forces people into the college model and, therefore, into unnecessary debt at the very beginning of their adult life. Debt that will encumber them and force career choices and life decisions based on the heavy burden.
It also completely disallows motivated individuals with natural talent and a joie de vivre for the job listed from even applying for the employment opportunity.
These intrinsic factors can’t be taught in the classroom — even at expensive universities. Our automation is cutting our potential workforce off at the knees.
The current educational system in America is unequivocally broken. Public institutions of higher learning are in constant competition with each other for the betterment of their financial gain and not the welfare and future of the graduating students.
We need to remodel education from classroom lecturing include the option to bypass college for a complete apprenticeship model that is equal in pay and employment opportunity in scale.
We need to remove the model of teacher lecturing to student and reinstall the journeyman and apprentice configuration of learning that guaranteed success on the job and that built America.
When a student leaves high school and enters the college of his or her choice, they do so under the delusion that post-bachelor’s degree they will be quickly employed with their degree of choice in hand in their field of study.
The truth is, for most students who do finish, they are massively in debt, inadequately trained for their field of study and grossly lack the requisite skills and experience needed by the majority of employers.
Most students will start at entry-level positions, not in their field of study, doing mindless tasks as they simultaneously pay off significant college debt and statistically changing frequently from one job to the next.
In contrast, if these same students were to graduate from high school and were to take a position with a company at the same entry-level position they were seeking after college graduation — but in an apprentice role, learning the skills of their trade over a time period for a few thousand dollars less in annual wages — they would start with no higher education debt, immediate income, the satisfaction of learning the job they want to learn and upward mobility.
The instructors and mentors to these apprentices serve as guides to assist the young journeymen who have an aptitude to excel into the field, while they can help those who do not have the aptitude or desire to find a field with a better fit.
This saves both the student and the employer time, money and heartache. It helps the student and the industry simultaneously by allowing both to assess their fit at an entry-level salary.
There are some career paths where this option is not as clearly viable; no one is suggesting that a physician apprentice straight out of high school will be able to use a journeyman educational trajectory in exclusivity; however, adding a journeyman aspect to this career path, along with didactic learning at the bachelor’s level would allow aspiring physicians to ensure that they wish to become physicians, ultimately minimizing the approximately 8,000 medical school almost-graduates who do not match and get the opportunity to become physicians annually.
Pilots can get licensed without a bachelor’s degree, and still be highly trained in a journeyman-type education model.
It’s not required to have a degree from a college or university to be a congressman, senator or the president of the United State.
A general contractor, who manages an entire construction project from beginning to end, learns as a journeyman.
Nobel Prizes and other achievement awards are given to a broad spectrum of people with education levels all over the board; those with no high school diploma to those whose entire careers have been in the post-doc realm.
What’s the difference in actual education between a student who graduates from an Ivy League university versus a state university?
Is there a difference in knowledge or is it more a question of prestige?
Let’s suppose that the Boston Globe has a position for an entry level reporter. Student A went to Princeton, paying $66,000 per year for cost of attendance including living expenses. Student B attended the University of West Florida, paying $16,000 annually, and they both earn a degree in journalism.
Are both equally qualified to work at the Boston Globe?
Consider the third option. An apprenticed journalist with four years of experience working at a known publication doing everything a journalist would do under the direct tutelage of an experienced writer.
This person could step in, with minimal down-time and make a seamless transition with minimal training into the reporter position for which they are hired. Whereas the newly minted college graduates with degrees in journalism, who may have had a summer internship for a paper, would require a much longer and painful transition into the position, without the benefit of having learned from an expert, with the same pay and there is no guarantee they will be able to do the job. Their work ethic under pressure and their ability to self-start is unknown.
Would you consider a person who has worked as an apprentice with four years’ experience as an intern/assistant at the Globe?
The apprentice will have worked under an experienced writer, doing research, conducting interviews, writing, and generally learning the nuts-and-bolts of the profession. Do you think that this person would learn more at university after such experience- with focused learning underpinned with experience- or less?
There will always be a place for the brick-and-mortar model of higher education for those individuals in specialties and fields in our marketplace.
However, it does not need to monopolize — and make no mistake, the college model has monopolized and dominated our workforce for the last 30 years, resulting in a dearth of college graduates but very few people skilled professionals to fill the skilled jobs.
A bachelor’s degree has already begun to lose its luster to higher degrees, as high school educations did to college degrees in year’s past. This is keeping-up-with-the-Jones at it’s best.
To change this mentality, and consequently reinvigorate those who wish to go to college for those professions that truly require a degree, an instructor/apprentice on the job role needs to be implemented throughout the workforce. This happens at the ground-level.
Companies need to open their doors and HR policies to internship positions and alternate routes for ultimate job hire.
Innovation in this process should be rewarded at companies, and the human element needs to be re-instituted into this process.
Learning happens much more comprehensively when real-life knowledge accompanies didactic education. Interns who are in college or return to college after some life experience will benefit not only the company for whom they work but also the technical school, college, or university that they attend.