Should apprenticeship/vocational programs eventually replace four-year college degree programs in America?

Gastonia, NC Correspondent-Apprenticeship is a concept that stretches back to the Middle Ages and before. Of course, back then it usually consisted of parents essentially consigning their male children to indentured servitude in hopes they’d be taught a trade that would eventually profit the family. These days, the system isn’t quite as abusive, and it gives the apprentices a chance to learn a trade from the ground up.

Trade schools, when they’re well-run and staffed by instructors who both know their craft and know how to teach it, are another outstanding way for those new to the workforce or those needing to change careers to get the necessary knowledge. Focused instruction on specific skills and trades gives the training necessary to do everything from fix a computer to rebuild an aircraft engine without the distractions of things like humanities and other “less essential” learning.

But there’s the rub: While I do wholeheartedly support job skills training and think it should get far more public funding than it does, I in no way believe it’s a substitute for a four-year college degree. The process of earning a degree exposes students to subject matter that may have absolutely nothing to do with their chosen field, and that’s a GOOD thing. Having to learn things simply for the joy of learning them (and for the grade) is in itself an important skill. How will the airplane mechanic write work orders and instructions for his underlings if he’s never learned how to craft a complete sentence or put his thoughts down on paper cogently?

I understand the economic realities of modern society, and know that trade schools and apprenticeships are a vital part of the plan to keep America competitive on the world stage. However, replacing traditional colleges with these alternates is a road to a dumbed-down electorate and a nation of rote thinkers.

Prescott Valley, AZ Correspondent- Apprenticeships and vocational programs should be supplemental programs that are aimed at educating those students and other adults who are working towards a high school diploma or GED and are not interested or prepared to go on to a college or university. There are always going to be students that are certain of the university training they need to attain in order to undertake a specific career, but many other young people are not ready or prepared for that kind of commitment and are unaware of how to channel their interests and abilities.

Once college graduates find themselves outside the college environment, many become aware that they are not prepared to meet the demands of large loans and the reality of limited job choices that are available to them. Attending a university for four years and accruing large student loan debt with little to no way to repay it can be very discouraging, and many graduates find themselves in lower end jobs simply to pay loans for a career that may have never materialized.

Not being able to find work in a chosen field seems to be the norm for many college graduates in today’s world, so there have to be alternatives for these individuals as well as for others who realize that some kind of job training besides college is necessary for them to learn a work ethic, earn a decent living, support themselves and a future family and live a better and happier life.

With the cost of university training escalating and the amount of debt being incurred through student loans, there are other ways for students to find and participate in satisfying work and careers once they have completed high school. Apprenticeship programs and vocational training are specific ways for students who are unsure of their work and job future to gain training without going into serious debt.

Once the government has eased and removed regulations and restrictions on industries that offer apprenticeships, new areas of specialization will be open to students without the debt that goes with a four-year degree. With apprenticeships students would earn as they learn. President Trump recently signed an executive order that will allow skill-based, flexible earn-and-learn programs to be instituted through the Department of Labor, which would allow companies, trade associations and unions to develop funded and approved apprenticeships, guidelines and accountability measures for apprenticeship programs.

Though vocational programs have been available for some time, they are not as highly promoted at the high school level as they should be. Most high school counselors usually want to persuade students not going on to college to enroll in vocational programs once they have graduated from high school. When high school students are not interested in going on to two or four year college or university programs, vocational education should be offered within a high school curriculum.

Learning a work ethic is the most important thought to instill in many students today and classes on that alone must be presented to uninspired students. From there, students should be assessed for aptitudes to know what areas of vocational study would be applicable to their interests and abilities. Whether graphic arts, auto mechanics, carpentry, welding, plumbing, electrical work, a building trade, computer repair and health related fields, there are vocational programs that can be implemented at the high school level. Mentoring for any one of these areas and actual on-the-job training should also be part of any vocational program at the high school level. Students need to be prepared while in high school and have on the job knowledge before graduation.

Vocational programs will likely not replace college or university programs, but in a time where fewer and fewer high school or college students have common, everyday skill sets, vocational programs will become a necessity to deal with technological advances and changes in job markets that require certain set abilities to compete in industries and trades that require precision skills.

Owatonna, MN Correspondent-Apprenticeship programs and vocational training have been around for centuries, either formally or informally. They are invaluable for training workers in trades such as carpentry, plumbing, and electricity. Unfortunately, they’ve taken a back seat to four-year college degrees in the past century in this country thanks to the misguided notion foisted upon the public by well-meaning but misguided idealists who believe that if all students became college graduates, realizing the American Dream would be slam-dunk guaranteed for each of them.

There has been a decades-long decline of manufacturing due to foreign competition, increased productivity, and greater utilization of robotics. Coupled with stagnant wages and the misperception that “manual laborers” can’t earn a livable wage, we’ve produced at least two generations of workers who don’t expect to be better off than their parents were.

Absolutely yes, apprenticeships and vocational programs should be emphasized in every junior high school and high school. Students need to know that college is not for everyone and that good jobs can be found that don’t require a college degree. Each student should be encouraged to discover their own best career path. But apprenticeships should not replace four-year college degree programs. Both have their place in training our workforce.

Businesses that require some sort of manufacturing talent should work in partnerships with schools—both high schools and colleges—to develop internships, apprenticeships, or vocational programs. These will not only give students a solid theoretical background (where colleges shine) but also give them solid technical and hands-on training that is specific to each company’s specific needs. It’s one thing to go to college to become a computer programmer, but if that knowledge can’t train a student how to program, run, and maintain the particular robot that is used on the shop floor to make all the widgets that a metal fabricator needs to produce, then the college degree is worthless. But combine that degree with a year or two of specific training during an apprenticeship and the business has a highly skilled, well-trained worker who will stay with the company for many years due to the unique skill set the worker has mastered.

Sheffield, Jamaica Correspondent-To be candid, the thought of sitting down in a classroom setting for 4 years and above was a nightmare I didn’t opt to face. No wonder I settled for an Associate’s Degree in Computer Programming (FYI, don’t be like me).

Some areas of study require more than the usual. However, I frankly believe that in most cases, the four-year degree is outdated, especially for students studying business and accounting. Tell me, what practical skills and application do students bring to the workforce after sitting behind a desk taking notes?

2X + 4Y =???

Eh, you feel me?

While I do believe a 4-year college sitting is overrated, it is a necessary evil, at least for some courses and programs. Let’s face it, some courses are heavy-hitters and pack filled with knowledge. I wouldn’t opt or lobby to have the 4-year sitting thrown out and replaced with internship or vocational studies, but rallying for a combination or merger is the better option. It’s a win-win.

How I see it, college kids do get some time in the classroom and hands-on experience – while they intern or engage in vocational practices.

To supplement, people have choices and while I hate the idea of sitting in a classroom for 4-years, some students relish the idea. I cannot speak for everyone, so instead of coercing students to bend to tradition, have them choose. That’s the democratic way.

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