The voices of Urban Institute's researchers and staff
June 9, 2014

Expanding apprenticeships is worth the investment

June 9, 2014

Ralph Alswang Photographer www.ralphphoto.com 202-487-5025

US Secretary of Labor Thomas Perez spoke today at the Urban Institute about the value of investing in a robust apprenticeship program.

Young people today face high student debt, high unemployment rates for young workers, and weak future job prospects. Apprenticeships may be the answer to these problems.

Evidence in favor of apprenticeships

The benefits are clear: apprenticeships give young people valuable skills in the manufacturing and service trades that set them up for strong middle-class careers. They also provide value and productivity for firms in a way that short-lived internships might not. Apprenticeships are a viable path to economic success without the need for college, but they can also set workers up for more education later in their careers.

What’s more, apprenticeships may disproportionally benefit women, minorities, and other groups that have traditionally faced uphill battles in the labor market.

Secretary Perez added more evidence for the value of apprenticeships. Apprentices tend to earn several times what non-apprentices earn over their lifetimes, he said. Representatives from major manufacturing companies like Ford and Boing have recently lamented their lack of high-skilled young workers, Perez added.

He also noted that in Wisconsin the average age of skilled workers is 59, while the age of the average Latino, for example, is just 17. Investing in young people with apprenticeships benefits them and the economy, and may well reduce future inequality.

Demand for apprenticeships is high

Both Secretary Perez and Urban Institute Fellow Robert Lerman noted at the event that while there are comparatively few US apprenticeships today, demand for the existing ones is high.

“If you build a good apprenticeship program,” Lerman said, “young people will come.”

Perhaps most important, apprenticeships are highly effective public investments, with evidence suggesting that for every public dollar invested, the public sees nearly $28 in benefits.

For the 5.1 million unemployed young people, these investments could be life-changing.

Image by Ralph Alswang for Urban Institute. Follow Zach on Twitter.

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