Arnold Kling  

Internships vs. Apprenticeships

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Timothy Taylor writes,

In America, many schools and parents and students will speak out strongly in favor of strong commitments to "community service" and volunteer projects and unpaid short-term internships. But many of these same people tend to recoil if the discussion turns to devoting similar amounts of time to a paid apprenticeship. As an American, it's hard to imagine a Swiss-style system where 70% of students, spread across the distribution of incomes and education levels, are in apprenticeship programs. It's hard to think about apprenticeships that would spread across a much wider range of jobs and industries than we currently see in the U.S. Such a change would require a substantial adjustment from firms, existing employees, schools, government, and students themselves. But the current hand-off from the education system to the job market isn't going too well for a lot of Americans at a wide array of skill levels. Maybe apprenticeships could help.


There may be a trade-off between practicality and conveying status. Apprenticeships offer the former, but internships offer the latter.


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COMMENTS (6 to date)
Kevin L writes:

At my alma mater, Kettering University, every student participates in co-op, which is more like apprenticeship than internship. You get paid (sometimes pretty well, sometimes not), advance within your career field while in school, and come out of college with up to 2 years of relevant experience. It's the main reason most of my classmates chose to go there, and it really works. Until the recession (which hit the school hard because of its ties to GM and the automotive industry and its location in southeast Michigan), it boasted a 98% employment or grad-school acceptance rate for graduating seniors. The co-op was intended to be practical, but - at least for engineering - it also conveys status because of the experience coupled with the reputation of the school, among the automotive industry in particular. So I think apprenticeships can convey status, especially in fields where experience is valued.

I'm in total agreement with the idea of apprenticeship (or co-op or whatever you call it). I think it develops really good engineers, and wouldn't be surprised if it turned out to be beneficial in other careers and industries.

Becky Hargrove writes:

My mother told a story the other day that makes me wonder how this set of circumstances might be changed. A poor family she knew years ago was given a turkey for Thanksgiving. I believe that the daughter had agreed to the gift, her father was furious and insisted the turkey be given back.

Some parts of the south have not changed a lot in this regard. The people who came here from the old world often were in an inferior position (economically and socially) where they came from, and so they passed on to the following generations never to let that happen again. Hopefully the present generations can break the pattern and be able to accept help (when needed) without losing their own relative status.

stephen writes:

Agreed on the status point, nothing to add there.

Seeing as to what has happened to tracking at the secondary school level it is safe to say that a apprenticeship, as a wide spread social institution, could never happen in the US. Though, it could have.

Five Daarstens writes:

A friend of mine graduated from high school in the UK at 16 in 1974(normal at the time). Then went to work as an apprentice for a Dutch engineering company. To this day he works as an engineer w/o ever haven attended a University. This is a much better system than the one we have in the US right now.

Joe Cushing writes:

Some internships are paid. I'm not sure there is a difference between an internship and an apprenticeship.

I think companies don't want to invest in people because they don't own the product of their investment. When people stayed in their jobs for 30 years, companies were less shy about this. I have a masters degree in finance and drive a truck for a living. It's been two years since I graduated and it's a rare event that I find an employer willing to take a new grad. There are jobs for people who are already trained posted every day. I went to a job fair and talked to a placement agency. They told me they don't even talk to people until they have two years experience. I know this is an age old catch 22 but I think it is more intense, because of what I mentioned above and because the current economic situation. One big exception is employers who don't pay a salary. They are always willing to take on new people. Most entry level jobs are paid commission.

jsalvatier writes:

At least at my school it was very expected for the engineering students of all the branches I was familiar with to do well-paid internships over the summers.

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