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Is the Apprenticeship Model Making a Comeback?


Enstitute, a new alternative to college, may be bringing higher education back to the Middle Ages. Rather than college degrees, Enstitute offers a two-year program that aims to give college students real-world job experience, akin to the venerable apprenticeship model. The New York Times reports:

[Enstitute] teaches skills in fields like information technology, computer programming and app building via on-the-job experience. Enstitute seeks to challenge the conventional wisdom that top professional jobs always require a bachelor’s degree — at least for a small group of the young, digital elite.

“Our long-term vision is that this becomes an acceptable alternative to college,” says Kane Sarhan, one of Enstitute’s founders. “Our big recruitment effort is at high schools and universities. We are targeting people who are not interested in going to school, school is not the right fit for them, or they can’t afford school.”

As part of the program, students “train with a master” for two years, while companies receive the benefit of cheap long-term labor. Essentially, they play the same role that interns do in the normal job market. Interns, however, generally stay in their roles for only a few months, giving employers little incentive to invest in their training. The two-year length of the Ensitute program, by contrast, makes it worthwhile for companies to take the time and energy to train students. In turn, these roles may eventually turn into permanent paid positions.

Vocational programs like these seem like a worthy experiment to us. Employers constantly complain that college grads lack even a basic understanding of the professional world. There should be no reason why students who want to learn specific skills or trades should be prevented from or stigmatized for doing so; a liberal arts education is a good and valuable thing, but that doesn’t mean it’s a good fit for every young student.

[Mortar boards image courtesy of Shutterstock]

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  • Luke Lea

    A step in the right direction. Now if we can just move this community college model down into the high and junior high schools. One way to remove the “stigma” would be to require all students, including those on an academic track, to take a certain number of vocational courses. Everybody ought to know how to cook and use a screw driver.

  • wigwag

    A definite step in the right direction. Smart people in many fields are reexamining old, discarded practices that might usefully be dusted off and reintroduced to the modern world. Apprenticeship is a tried and true practice that could revolutionize education; just because it is ancient, doesn’t mean it’s not relevant to the 21st century. It may even represent an improvement over what we have now. Sometimes this new trend to reintroduce apprenticeship is referred to by a word that is newly coined; “mentorology.” The bottom line is that it is a great idea.

    I can provide one more example of a discarded practice being revived and proving to be revolutionary; its field; it is from a field that I am familiar with, medicine. Prior to the 1950s, the only treatment for children with epilepsy was a very low carbohydrate diet called the ketogenic diet (it’s like Atkins on steroids). The diet was highly effective in controllong seizures but with the development of antiseizure medications this method of treatment was virtually forgotten.
    The problem is that there is a subset of pediatric patients who don’t respond to antiepileptic medications; their seizures are intractable. Some of these kids have scores or even hundreds of seizures every day. A group of neurologists recently scanned the literature to try to figure out how they might intervene and they came across old papers describing how to implement the ketogenic diet in pediatric patients. They tried it, and to their astonishment it worked. Virtually every epileptic patient who couldn’t be controlled with antiseizure drugs responded very effectively to this old-fashioned treatment. More than 95 percent of the epileptic kids on the diet because seizure free. The ketogenic diet is now standard therapy at almost every center for kids with intractable epilepsy.
    So, what’s the point? What I am getting at is what I think Via Meadia is getting at in this post. Just because an idea isn’t modern doesn’t mean it isn’t right. Sometimes old ideas are actually better than new ideas. A return to the apprenticeship model is a great thing.

    • Luke Lea

      I went through a union carpenter apprenticeship program in the Bay Area. It was a great program and could be implemented in public high schools very easily. I’m sure the same would hold true for all the other building trades.

  • lhfry

    This is great, but we need apprenticeship programs in shortage occupations that pay well, to prepare plumbers, electricians, glaziers, welders, auto mechanics and others. These jobs are not easily outsourced and it is difficult for illegals to capture them since serious skills are required to perform them unlike other carpentry trades.

  • Fat_Man

    “The Apprentice:How manufacturers and community colleges are teaming up, German-style, to create high-paying factory jobs.”By Dana Goldstein, September 21, 2012

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