Why Apprenticeship is Becoming the New College Degree

This guest article is brought to you by Mark C. Perna, speaker at the 2019 Customer Service Revolution.

Apprenticeships, once considered an “old-fashioned” training pathway limited to very specific trades, are gaining ground today as a highly effective and efficient route to a rewarding career. According to a recent survey, 62 percent of Americans believe apprenticeships and other on-the-job training programs make workers more employable than a college degree. 


About seven in 10 U.S. adults say learning a specific trade is better for finding a job than a bachelor’s degree (68 percent) and that college degrees aren’t worth as much as they used to be (69 percent). A majority disagree that completing an apprenticeship will limit one’s future employment options (71 percent) and that earn-while-learning programs generally lead to a lower salary than occupations requiring a college degree (60 percent). 


Today, the apprenticeship model is expanding to include a much wider range of career pathways. Structured coaching relationships and mentorships in many corporate businesses embody the spirit of apprenticeship: an experienced worker passing on his or her knowledge, skills, and expertise to a worker new to the field. 


What apprenticeships bring to workers—and companies 

Most people would prefer to learn by actively doing something rather than by passively hearing it. (This is one shortcoming of the current learning model prevalent in America’s college culture, where 75-minute lectures and copious note-taking are often the order of the day.) 


Today’s younger generations, whom I call the Why Generation due to their innately inquisitive nature, live for experiences. To them, experience is everything. A learning-by-doing model plays to this strength and can engage Generations Y and Z at a much deeper level than lecture-driven methods. 


Learning by doing isn’t a new concept. A quote sometimes attributed to Benjamin Franklin (himself once an apprentice to his brother in the printing trade) says: “Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I remember. Involve me and I learn.” 


According to educator Edgar Dale, over a two-week period we remember only: 

  • 10 percent of what we read, 
  • 20 percent of what we hear, 
  • 30 percent of what we see, 
  • 50 percent of what we hear and see, 
  • 70 percent of what we say and write, and 
  • 90 percent of what we actually participate in. 

Workers who don’t just learn, but actually experience their field will be infinitely better equipped to succeed in the work they’ve chosen. They will also benefit by completing their training at a fraction of the cost of many other postsecondary training pathways. 


Businesses that invest in apprenticeship training programs stand to reap the incalculable advantage of a carefully trained, skilled workforce that can deliver exactly what their ever-evolving market requires. Apprenticeships also give firms the opportunity to start building a foundation of employee trust and loyalty in a world where 43 percent of millennial and 61 percent of Gen Z workers plan to leave their jobs within two years. 


Making apprenticeship a path to the future 

While recent survey results are encouraging, there is still much work to be done in high school guidance offices, in public awareness, and in legislative action to promote apprenticeships. 


Apprenticeships are for anyone who wants to learn by doing, avoid significant educational debt, and get started in a rewarding, high-demand career. And with an increasing number of companies joining the apprenticeship movement, this once-old-fashioned training pathway is fast becoming a route to the future.