A report in the FT by Ed Luce concluded what I have always thought about the German apprenticeship system: It works. Ergo the increase in interest from the U.S. But I pity the process that must be undergone to emulate even some of it’s slightest attributes as it goes against sometimes our core beliefs.
Germany channels roughly half of all high-school students into the vocational education stream from the age of 16. In the US that would be seen as too divisive, even un-American. More than 40 per cent of Germans become apprentices. Only 0.3 per cent of the US labour force does so. But with the US participation rate continuing to plummet – last month another 496,000 Americans gave up looking for work – many US politicians are scouring Germany for answers.
The U.S. has paved a single road to knowledge, the road through the classroom. “Sit down, stay quiet, and absorb. Do this for 12 to 16 years,” we tell the students, “and all will be well.” Most of them, however, crash before they reach the end of the road–some drop out of high school and then more drop out of college. Who can blame them? Sit-down learning is not for everyone, perhaps not even for most people. There are many roads to knowledge.
German apprenticeship students are well-educated, highly skilled and employable and they are in no way second-class relative to college graduates. Going to college is neither necessary nor sufficient to be well-educated. What is more, Luce indicates that:
Fifteen per cent of taxi drivers in the US have a degree, up from 1 per cent in 1970. Likewise, 25 per cent of sales clerks are graduates, against 5 per cent in 1970. An astonishing 5 per cent of janitors now have a bachelor’s degree.