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Education Innovation
Reviving an Old Model in a New Way

Can the apprenticeship model make a comeback in the twenty-first century? The Wall Street Journal‘s Anne Kadet offers a look at Floating Piano Factory, a Brooklyn-based company offering both cheap piano tunings to customers and high-tech training for aspiring piano technicians. A taste:

Who, in this digital age, would become a piano tech? You might as well study typewriter repair [ . . . ]

But the Floating Piano apprentice who arrived at my door last week was no Luddite. Tom Erickson is a young composer and sax player who describes the sound of his big band, Flying Dragon, “as if a modern classical or jazz composer was writing a Radiohead song.”

It was like no tuning I’ve ever seen. Mr. Erickson used an app to help calibrate the pitch and FaceTime video to share his work with his boss, Eathan Janney, who currently lives in Peru.

The story underscores the way that new technology can help facilitate an “old-fashioned,” but highly effective, arrangement, in which the apprentice learns a difficult skill, the customer gets a piano tuned at around a 50 percent discount, and the master monitors the work online and gets an income while enjoying the freedom and flexibility to live thousands of miles away.

Many skills can be taught as well as or better in apprenticeships than in formal classes at accredited colleges with their high tuitions, regulatory and administrative overloads, and superfluous political agitation. Policymakers should focus on reforming the educational and credentialing systems so that more people can find creative, modern ways to teach and learn specialized skills that are as important as ever in the new economy.

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  • Anthony

    Human capital formation is an investment and evidence makes clear that return can be large (in terms of added productivity). Furthermore, encouraging apprenticeships, in principle, is sound policy from private business stand point. Indeed, said policy can actually stand alone (outside of referenced educational apparatus) in that many of the skills that bear most directly on how well workers do their job as well as how much knowledge they bring to bear come from the training and experience they receive in the course of their working careers – concept applicable certainly in new economy as defined. So, a more apt consideration (though a complicated role for public policy) would be investing in the nation’s human capital via coaxing model post illustrates through private sector on-the-job-training.

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