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Would German-Style Apprenticeships Work in the U.S.?

Can German-style apprenticeships work in the U.S.?
Apprentices for control engineering  pictured at education and technology center of the chamber of handicrafts in Leipzig, Germany
Apprentices for control engineering pictured at education and technology center of the chamber of handicrafts in Leipzig, GermanyPhotograph by Waltraud Grubitzsch/dpa/Corbis

In a world of high youth unemployment, where the supply of skilled labor often fails to match employer demand, Germany believes help can be found in its Dual Vocational Training System (TVET)—a time-tested economic model now incorporated into the Federal Republic’s law. This program, many supporters believe, is the reason why Germany has the lowest jobless rate among young people of any industrialized nation in the world—around 7 percent or 8 percent. With so many Americans struggling to find employment after graduating high school and college it might be worth asking: Can the German approach be brought to the U.S.?

The German concept is simple: After students complete their mandatory years of schooling, usually around age 18, they apply to a private company for a two or three year training contract. If accepted, the government supplements the trainee’s on-the-job learning with more broad-based education in his or her field of choice at a publicly funded vocational school. Usually, trainees spend three to four days at work and one to two in the classroom. At the end, the theory goes, they come out with both practical and technical skills to compete in a global market, along with a good overall perspective on the nature of their profession. They also receive a state certificate for passing company exams, designed and administred by industry groups—a credential that allows transfer to similarly oriented businesses should the training company not retain them beyond the initial contract.