Sawdust Soup

Should we bring back apprenticeships?

Although it gets far too little coverage in the mainstream media, our current unemployment problems are made worse by a growing skills gap. Millions of jobs are going unfilled because there are not the skilled workers to fill them. Increasingly these jobs are in trades and manufacturing businesses such as woodworking. Our education system has done a good job of convincing everyone they need a college education and that "blue collar" jobs can't possibly provide a good income. The result is lots of college students saddled with lots of debt and competing for few jobs or no jobs while potentially great manufacturing and trade jobs go wanting. One solution that has been advanced is to bring back the apprenticeship system to encourage on-the-job training. Here's a great discussion on this subject at the Wall Street Journal. But, as the report explains, apprenticeships continue to decline. It's a real challenge.

In the woodworking industry, we are making progress with the Woodworking Career Alliance and skills standards passport program. But that is not enough. Students need to learn earlier in their educational lives about ALL of the alternatives available, including college, trade schools, apprenticeships, and entrepreneurial opportunities.

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Tags: apprenticeships, education, manufacturing, skills_gap, trades, vocational_education, woodworking

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Comment by Rob Colvard on June 4, 2014 at 12:28pm

Hey Don,

I see what what your saying and believe me, I concur with you 100% on the idea of bureaucratic red tape being a major road block in almost every direction we turn. It would seem at times, that what they want is a government reliant society.

I applaud you for trying to give the less fortunate a hand up and teach them skills that would put them head and shoulders above the rest.

Don't give up!  They need us and we need them, now more than ever!

Comment by Don Thomson on June 4, 2014 at 12:06pm

Rob - the problem is not with wages.  The problem is that WA state politicians, in their infinite lack of wisdom and desire to buy voters, make it cost prohibitive to bring on an apprentice.  $17 an hour to for workers comp insurance (state government run program) is WAY to big a pill for me to swallow.

I tried to target high school kids so I could provide them with some real world hands on experience and some technical skills to give them a leg up when they graduate.  I am a retired Coast Guard Chief Petty Officer and would love nothing more then to offer apprenticeships to veterans, but that was not my target group.  I live in a poor rural area and a lot of the kids won't even get a chance to go to college or a vocational school.  Many of them will go into the same line of work as their parents, drugs or career welfare recipients.  I was trying to provide something to the community to break or at least slow down this cycle.  And that's when I hit the government road block.  Was very disappointing.

Comment by Rob Colvard on June 4, 2014 at 8:19am

We recently set up an apprenticeship program for veterans. We had to go through the V. A. and it did involve some paper work and correspondence.

I have been in the wood working industry for about forty years now and like everyone else have seen a drastic decline in well trained woodworkers whether they are framers or cabinet makers, the skills are being lost. I have found over the years that people that don't test well on paper are often very good at hands on type work.

If you believe that we need to "bring back apprenticeship's" then, bring them back! You don't need to wait for someone else to do it, or for it to be sanctioned by a union or some woodworking talking head i.e. CMA or any organization.

If you have skill to share and knowledge that others could benefit  from, by all means please do so. It is not that hard to format a program that creates benchmarks to be met in order for the apprentice to advance. And when you have that person trained you will have the satisfaction of having an employee who truly understands the things you feel are important and you will have helped the entire industry by passing along skills that are becoming all to hard to find if not extinct.

I went through four apprenticeships when I was young, I never needed  to show anyone a certificate, as the proof was in the work and any experience employer can tell if not by a few well poised questions then certainly after the first day of work.

P.S. Don Thompson, Other than minimum wage, I am not aware of, and the V.A. rep told us that the government can not dictate the pay scale.......Yet!

Comment by Abel Jacobus Jacobs Badenhorst on May 26, 2014 at 7:31pm

As a retired training officer I share your thought of bringing back apprenticeships. This seems a worldwide problem, I reside in South Africa, where other problems influence this situation even more without entering politics . You have to be of a certain race group to be employed or to enter colleges and universities in certain fields. Most youngsters don't want to start at bottom rates such as those paid to learners.

Comment by Will Sampson on May 22, 2014 at 7:27am

Don, it is a sad situation. We are graduating students from college with the equivalent debt of a small mortgage and few job prospects while at the same time putting road blocks in the way of trade and manufacturing education at all levels. None of it makes much sense. And here's another irony for you. I know of some businesses that style their "apprenticeships" as pure training, even if the apprentices are doing work for the company. That way, they actually charge the apprentices "tuition" to learn on the job rather than pay them even minimum wage. Then they are "students" rather than "employees." Ethically, it raises some issues, but apparently it is a legal arrangement as long as the students are willing and have the money to pay. Maybe you should offer classes to share your skills rather than trying to offer jobs. Another ironic thought...

Comment by Don Thomson on May 21, 2014 at 7:34pm

I tried offering apprenticeships in my woodshop in Newport, WA.  Unfortunately, as usual, the government intervened and said I would have to pay the government labor & industries agency $17 per hour to have an apprentice.

That is OUTRAGEOUS!!!  I certainly can't charge that to a customer and I can't eat that much.  I am trying to teach a young person some skills, ethics and morals and the government says NO WAY.  That should tell a lot of people right there how out of control government pinheads have become.  Other then volunteering at the local high school woodshop once in a while to teach, it looks like I'm taking 45+ years of woodworking knowledge and experience, not to mention 23 years of US Coast Guard experience (electronics, law enforcement, leadership and management experience, etc.) to the grave with me thanks to the nanny state we now have.

I remember apprenticing at a local dairy farm for several years when I was in my early teens.  There was NO government intervention.  It was a gentleman's handshake between my Dad and the farm owner.  I learned so much there and it has stayed with me through my whole life.  Not just how to farm and everything that goes with running and maintaining a farm but also work ethics, morals, honesty, hard work, etc.  I even learned how to strip down and rebuild a Chevy small block when I was 14 on the farm.

Now government pinheads must stop everything of value to society in its tracks and demand a huge fee to move forward.  Very sad......  :-(

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