Are College Degrees Losing Out to Apprenticeships?

Many young people today are re-evaluating the value of a college degree. But while trying to jump straight into employment may feel a more secure and safe option at the moment, many jobs higher up the ladder require some form of post-secondary education. So what can young people do? The answer might be in reviving the currently unfashionable system of apprenticeships, writes Liz Dwyer at

As job experience programs and internships vary in quality and often aren't paid, apprenticeships combine paid on-the-job training with college or trade school classes, providing academic knowledge and industry-specific training that will prepare students for the future.

And the idea seems to be gathering international concord. A recent BBC survey of high schoolers in the UK showed that two-thirds would rather forgo attending college in favor of entering an apprenticeship.

Businesses are seemingly keen to get on board too. Adrian Thomas, head of resourcing for Network Rail, a company that maintains the UK's rail infrastructure told The Independent:

"The investment that we make in our apprentices is driven by needing people with the right skills coming in to support our maintenance teams."

The US Department of Labor is trying to expand apprenticeship models in key fields like health care, green jobs, transportation, and information technology, says Dwyer.

One obstacle is thought to be the possible trepidation that young people may have committing to heavily to a certain field of work at their age.

"It's tough for a teenager, especially one from a low-income urban neighborhood, to sign up for a health care track if she doesn't know whether the sight of blood will make her sick, or a computer apprenticeship if she's never had any exposure to technology."

There's no easy way for students to figure out which employers are accepting apprentices or get in contact with them, and so that's why places like "P-Tech", a new high school in New York City that's the result of a partnership between IBM and the City University of New York, could prove to be a viable apprenticeship model.

"P-Tech students have the option of enrolling for six years of study—by graduation, they have hands-on experience, an associate's degree in computer science, and a possible job offer from IBM."

The average program is four years long, and so does require a fair investment. But this is not unlike a normal college course. And the financial incentives for sticking with it are extremely favorable. The average salary for someone who has completed an apprenticeship is $49,795. That's more than what some teachers with four-year degrees earn.

Cash-strapped students would also be attracted to the possibility of coming out of an apprenticeship without any student loans.

For a generation looking for ways to gain knowledge and skills without being crippled by debt, that might make apprenticeships the way to go, writes Dwyer.

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