Apprenticeship Programs

AuthorDavid Victor, Deborah Hausler

Page 11

Apprenticeship programs involve on-the-job training coupled with in-class support for students before they directly enter the workforce. Apprenticeships also are called dual-training programs because participants receive training both in the workplace and at school. Apprenticeship programs have proven extremely effective in smoothly transferring school-related skills to pragmatic workforce application.


Apprenticeship programs were first developed in Germany, where they have received worldwide attention. As Gitter and Scheuer note: "The comprehensive German apprenticeship system is often seen as a model for an improved school-to-work transition" (1997). Perhaps the reason the German model is so successful is the commitment of time both parties invest in the apprenticeship—usually three or more years. This commitment recognizes apprenticeship as a critical educational and training crossroad.

Also contributing to the acceptance of the German model, the Federal Ministry of Education regulates each occupation's training requirements and the ultimate rewarding of completion certification to apprentices. It also provides the framework for the working agreements between apprentices and employers.

Wages for apprentices generally are one-third of the standard employment rate in a given occupation. These wages are fixed across companies regionally through collective agreement of participating employers.

Rainer Winkelmann identifies three hallmark features of the German apprenticeship model: "it is company-based, it relies on voluntary participation by firms, and it generates portable, occupation-specific skills" (1996). Additionally, apprenticeships are funded by the individual companies involved, rather than through state funding or payroll taxation. Actual pay varies greatly according to the nature of the apprenticeship.

Traditionally, apprentices must find their own apprenticeships. In Germany, this often is accomplished through the potential apprentice's own personal connections or initiative. Additionally, Germany's Federal Employment Agency helps to place applicants with firms seeking apprentices. A range of Web sites are available that provide databases of employers offering apprenticeships, searchable by occupation. Though apprenticeships are in no way guaranteed, the vast majority of Germans have participated in an apprenticeship. Indeed, 71 percent of the German labor force had undergone a formal apprenticeship in 1991. Moreover, this figure is misleadingly low, since it does not include those Germans participating in alternative on-the-job training in specialized training schools for health care professionals, hotel workers, or civil servants.


Apprenticeships differ from the internship model more commonly practiced in the United States and Canada. Internships offer essentially minor workplace exposure over a comparatively short time. The internship is seen as merely augmenting the more important coursework. The nature of the internship may not even be set by the employer; instead, it might be determined by the educational institution with the goodwill of the host company. The benefit to the employer in an internship is often negligible, with the long-range benefit of a better qualified employment pool. If the intern contributes to the organization in more than a superficial way, it is an added benefit rather than an expected outcome, although having an intern pool does allow a company to prescreen potential new employees before hiring them permanently. Finally, the internship tends to be an isolated, short-term project as opposed to the four- to five-year commitment of most apprenticeship programs.

In many respects, apprenticeships are the diametric opposite of internships (see Table 1). In an apprenticeship, the work-related experience is central, with the company, rather than the educational institution, determining the terms of study. In...

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