Achieving a healthy future of work requires employees to build skills that help them attain productive and rewarding careers. One of the most cost-effective ways to do this is through apprenticeship, which helps workers master occupations and gain professional identity and pride.

Despite some increases, the apprenticeship rate in the US remains well behind rates in many other countries. Strengthening apprenticeship at scale would widen opportunity for a large segment of workers but will require policies that reshape incentives, funding, skill standards, assessments, and methods used to attract employers and establish apprenticeships.

It would also require mindset shifts about apprenticeships. Employers would need to understand apprenticeships are a viable and cost-effective talent development strategy that can be quickly implemented to serve current and future workforce needs. Workers would need to view apprenticeships as opportunities to aspire to, not resort to. And governments and the public would need to understand apprenticeship can be a mainstream path to learning and desirable careers—a path that is highly cost-effective for workers and can involve college credit and degrees.

Building a quality US apprenticeship system that can ultimately train 25 to 30 percent of workers would require Congress and the new administration to take several steps.

  1. Develop recognized occupational frameworks to ease employer participation.
  2. Formalize the role intermediaries play in developing apprenticeship programs and working with employers.
  3. Fund off-the-job learning opportunities for apprentices using official skill frameworks.
  4. Enlist high schools, including career academies and career and technical education programs, to sponsor apprenticeships for local employers.
  5. Strengthen independent auditing to assure program quality and to avoid fraud, thus increasing the credibility of the apprenticeship system.
  6. Create apprenticeship positions with federal, state, and local governments.

Read the full article about the American apprenticeship system by Robert I. Lerman at Urban Institute.