As we have been saying for a while now, the job market is booming. The unemployment rate is slightly above 4% (which is considered to be full employment) and the monthly JOLTS report shows a record number of job openings. However there is still a significant skills gap in the economy, and apprentice programs can help people get the skills they need for a better job.
It is great news that the federal government is stepping up in 2017. They plan on doubling the amount of money invested into these various apprenticeship programs. While the amount will still be minimal in the grand scheme of things ($200 million) every dollar counts. The overall goal is to create millions of additional apprenticeships from the estimated 500,000 that exist today.
Will apprenticeships make a difference?
The fact is that if someone wants a job, really no one should be unemployed these days. Employers are begging for workers. The problem is that a good number of those job openings do not pay very well. This investment by the federal government could help close that skills gap.
As just one example, there are currently tens if not hundreds of thousands of manufacturing jobs available. But many of them are in high tech type fields, such as precision tooling, robotics programmers, computer technicians, plumbers, etc. The Manufacturing Institute also expects about 3.4 million more manufacturing positions to become available from 2017-2027, and maybe 50% of those could be unfilled due to the skills gap. There are 3.3 million open STEM-related jobs, such as programmer, software developer, etc. Nursing is also desperate for help, as are many other career oriented jobs.
Apprenticeships can help here…as well as in other industries. If someone lacks the skills for one of those manufacturing jobs (or any other position) then an apprenticeship program can help them get the experience and skills they need. They can start working one of those jobs, get some form of income as well as benefits, and maybe most importantly gain skills.
Then, if the person steps up to the challenge and gains the skills they need, and if the employer thinks they are doing a good job, then the apprentice could be hired into a formal maybe full-time position. So it is a win-win for all involved.
Benefits to employers and worker
All parties benefit from these apprenticeship programs. So there is really no downside, as shown from other countries that use them such as Germany or the Netherlands. So if the federal government continues to invest, they will benefit this country in the following ways.
Workers – They can apply to be an apprentice, even if they lack some or many skills. This will give them new skills that are relevant to today’s economy. The worker will also get come compensation, learn about various work environments, and gain other benefits. They gain relevant experience without needing to go back to college and take on debt for that.
Employers – They can in effect take a chance on a worker who may not quite have everything they would ideally like. Then the employer can train them. While the apprentice will still have a salary and benefits, it is lower than other fully qualified workers. And if the employees doesn’t gain the skills they need during the course of the program (which may last a few years), the employer can part ways with the worker in a much more efficient way then if the employee was working full time.
We believe that by the government taking steps like this (doubling its investment in apprenticeship programs) and employers willing to get on board, this could be a significant factor in helping households increase their families income.