The Case for Apprenticeships (Not the Trump Kind)

Given the current educational system's impotency, students could probably learn a thing of two from man's original on-the-job training.
March 24, 2016
6 mins read

Let’s Bring Apprenticeships Back Into Style

Given the current educational system’s impotency, students could probably learn a thing of two from man’s original on-the-job training.

By Jill Phelan, Saint Vincent College

Once upon a time, college was for the elite and apprenticeships were for the working class.

While the wealthy pursued knowledge for funsies, the Average Joes learned job skills from the masters of their trade.

Over time, the apprenticeship system died off and now it’s pretty much required to have some form of higher education to land a career. But even though it has become commonplace to earn a degree, the cost of post-secondary school still reflects the idea that learning is an activity meant for the rich, though that’s clearly not the case anymore.

If you’re thinking I’m about to hop on the free-college bandwagon, think again. I have a different idea in mind.

Consider we put the emphasis back on a high school diploma like back in the day. If students focused more on learning a variety of subjects and basic skills at the secondary level of education, then we reduce the need to go to college. I know, crazy right?

After all, when we go to universities and take multiple introductory courses, isn’t that just saying, “You didn’t learn the fundamentals in senior high, so we’re going to teach them to you before you move on”?

Well I know that’s a bunch of bull, because I for one have taken algebra a million times by now, so I think I’m covered. Seriously, stop trying to shove math down my throat; it’s not helping me.

The Case for Apprenticeships (Not the Trump Kind)

And that brings me to my next point: We really don’t need a lot of this information to be successful. What does a car mechanic need to know about Ancient Egypt? And why does an English major need to study trigonometry? It seems trivial in the grand scheme of things.

If you’re going to give me that same “it makes you a well-rounded individual” lecture, well then I’ll stop you right there, because I’m tired of that argument.

High school should be the time to study all of those subjects that magically transform us into seasoned members of society. College, on the other hand, should be optional like it used to be. Higher education should be geared more toward those in the pursuit of knowledge for the sheer desire to learn (and also toward those that can afford it). In my opinion, that is how we place the value back into a degree. We make it a privilege again, not a requirement.

There are a few exceptions to my theoretical plan, two of which include doctors and lawyers. Professions like that should need extra years of experience. I wouldn’t want the guy performing life-or-death surgery on my heart to only have a high school diploma (unless of course I had a death wish).

But most other job fields shouldn’t require an additional four or five-year degree after the twelfth grade.

All of these things considered, I propose we bring back a modified version of the apprenticeship—leaving out the slavery and indentured servants part, obviously.

After all, what’s the one thing employers want above all else nowadays? Experience. Most places won’t hire you unless you’ve had an internship at some point.

Now I’m not suggesting that you just crank out a few internships and call it a day, because while they’re similar to apprenticeships, internships are more often than not limited in what they can offer given the amount of time they last (usually a year or two).

Not to mention they’re are pretty hard to come by as of late, and you’ll probably get rejected for ten before you get accepted for one. This is why we need to pay more attention to opportunities that will provide us with substantial and applicable experience, like apprenticeships.

Think about it: Instead of going to college, apprentices could focus on learning valuable job skills from a professional, ensuring that the knowledge they’re absorbing goes to good use. Students could gain a more thorough understanding of the workforce that would actually benefit them, and, instead of cramming tons of random information into their brains, apprentice workers would be able to practice in a hands-on environment.

From an economic standpoint, if the state stopped financing everyone and their mother’s college education and instead put that money into the secondary education system and business training programs, the government could cut down dramatically on student debt and boost company productivity. This would in turn create more jobs and increase sales, making the world all sunshine and rainbows.

And if after all that you still want to learn about Ancient Egypt in your free time, well then there’s still the internet and public libraries, places in which you can search and read to your heart’s content. We live in a world where the web provides anyone curious with all the resources they could ever need right at their fingertips, making auto-didacticism easier than ever before.

Further, while we’re still visiting hypothetical land, it wouldn’t be a bad idea to encourage community colleges to offer courses open to the public for some additional intellectual fulfillment.

You want to learn more algebra or take a personal finance class? Be my guest! The point is that education should be something you get because you want it, not because it’s a pre-req for employment.

Of course, I don’t actually expect any of this to happen, but it’s good food for thought. As a college student shackled to what is—at least in my eyes—a flawed system, it’s nice to imagine a world where I’m not burdened by unnecessary debt. A girl can dream, can’t she?

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