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Thursday, November 12, 2015

German Apprenticeships (and why the USA needs them too)

Did you know that student loan debt is the second largest source of debt for Americans (mortgages are the #1)? Excuse my German, aber das ist für'n Arsch.

Apprenticeships in Germany


I have student loans. In fact, I graduated with the average amount of student loan debt for someone with a Bachelor's degree: $30,000. Luckily, this number is not increasing since college education is free in Germany. However, it is still waiting for me when I graduate and cannot keep it under deferral any longer.

But what choice do Americans have? Due to the recent trend of "up-credentialing," jobs that traditionally required only a high school education (e.g. secretary/administrative assistant) are now only accepting college graduates. But hell, who blames them? You may as well take advantage of all the unemployed graduates willing to work $12/hour in order to keep up with the minimum payments on their student loan.

Upcredentialing jobs 2

But why hasn't this problem manifested itself in German culture?

Public universities in Germany are free, yes. However, only about 25% of Germans in the same age group go to university. Compare this with 66% in the U.S. The American job market may be over-saturated with college graduates, but what other choice did those graduates have? Of those that don't go to college, only 50% are able to find a job within a year.

In Germany, there are 342 trades that offer an apprenticeship, and about two-thirds of young people choose to enter into an apprenticeship after high school (i.e. Hauptschule/Realschule/Gymnasium). 

This means that if you want to be a banker, you do an apprenticeship in a bank. You do not waste tens of thousands of dollars to get a Bachelor's degree in finance. If you want to work in radio, you do an apprenticeship with a radio station. You don't waste your time and money on a Bachelor's in communication.

Nevertheless, apprenticeships do consist of both practical and theoretical training. This usually means that apprentices spend 50% of their time training for their desired job at a specific business and 50% of their time taking relevant classes at a vocational school. 

Of course, it is an investment for a company to offer an apprenticeship. Apprentices typically receive a small wage as they train for the job and take classes. These wages are paid by the business where the apprentice is working, making many apprenticeships very competitive. 

Unfortunately, U.S. companies are not in the business of trickling down profits to employees. Even the most profitable companies often have interns working for free. So, I think it is pretty unlikely that American companies will be willing to invest in young people by offering paid apprenticeships.

Currently, apprenticeships in the U.S. only really exist for a small number of trades such as construction, plumbing, and electric - just check out the U.S. Department of Labor's website, where you can also find this great quote:

American apprenticeships
Source: http://www.dol.gov/apprenticeship/find-opportunities.htm

Sometimes I wonder if I would still go to college if I could do it all over again. Although I am almost done with my Master's degree, I am not exactly a passionate academic. During my Bachelor's (which I was not always pleased with), I often thought that if I were a man, I would have just done an apprenticeship in construction. So, maybe if I had grown up in Germany, I would have done an apprenticeship at a bank, doctor's office, media company, anything.  Then again, maybe not, but I would have at least liked to have the option.

Until something changes in the U.S., I guess we will just have to wait for the day when the Baby Boomer generation dies out, my generation (i.e. the new "middle class") cannot afford homes, and student loan debt overtakes mortgages for the #1 spot.

Do you think an apprenticeship system is lacking in the U.S.? Am I being too pessimistic?

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