The voices of Urban Institute's researchers and staff
August 12, 2013

Why aren’t there more apprenticeships for women?

August 12, 2013

Urban Institute Fellow Bob Lerman posted Wednesday about the role of apprenticeships in preparing workers for success, citing evidence that suggests the government should invest much more than it does now in apprenticeship programs.

That post got a lot of attention and generated a lot of good questions. I asked Lerman a few of them as follow-ups. His responses are below.

Your apprenticeship post got a lot of attention. One question suggested that relatively few women have apprenticeships. Is that true? If so, why?

It is true. The main reason is that apprenticeships have been concentrated in male-dominated industries, especially construction and plant-level work in manufacturing. Governments have sponsored initiatives to attract women to these fields with only modest success.

So why do you think apprenticeships haven’t flourished in industries more popular with women?

Because policymakers have failed to make expanding apprenticeship a priority, and creating an apprenticeship program is complicated for most employers.

Which traditionally women-dominated industries might benefit from increased investment?

Health and finance are two major industries in which women make up a high share of employers. Both could benefit from having more well-structured apprenticeships. Child care and elder care could use apprenticeships to raise quality and build inclusive job ladders.

What are some of the benefits women might expect to see?

If apprenticeships became more widespread across industries, women would benefit for the same reasons men benefit—earning while learning, increasing their skills, obtaining a valued occupational credential, and becoming a proud member of a community of practice. Quality apprenticeships can also upgrade the image and quality of women-dominated professions, such as child care, that currently pay low wages and garner little prestige.

What about minority workers? Would they see the same benefits from greater apprenticeship investment?

Black and Hispanic workers make up about 30 percent of apprentices. They likely benefit more than non-Hispanic white workers because they are currently less successful in academic-only settings. Also, because employers hire apprentices on a temporary basis and watch them work and learn in their companies, apprenticeships can reduce discrimination based on group identities.

You seem to see apprenticeships as a missing link in preparing our workers, especially workers without college degrees, for gainful employment. What are the next steps?

The key is to expand significantly the number of apprenticeship slots sponsored by employers. Moving to scale in this sense is difficult but not impossible. It requires three steps that should be taken simultaneously: 1) engaging political leadership at a high level, such as a president or a governor; 2) launching statewide marketing campaigns, including publicity targeted at specific industry sectors; and 3) selling apprenticeship to individual firms (think of it as a retail approach) as well as providing technical assistance to organize and validate programs at the firm level.

Apprentice photo via Shutterstock

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