We can no longer approach education with a one-size-fits-all model
As CEOs, we, too, need to reinforce a refreshed approach to education, including making vocational training opportunities available within our own companies. In March, the American Workforce Policy Advisory Board met at the White House to determine how to “develop and implement a strategy to revamp the American workforce to better meet the challenges of the 21st century." I was especially happy to see that one of the proposed solutions included increased funding for vocational schools and apprenticeship programs. Given the high number of college graduates in recent years, there is absolutely a reciprocal need for vocational training in areas that contribute to the basic functions of society, such as mechanics, electronics, computer control systems, machining, and pneumatics. While traditional academia is certainly a privilege and an asset, apprenticeships offer hands-on experience to those who may not feel drawn to a college career. The fact is, there are various degrees of learning; a traditional four-year university degree might not be for everyone, and that's okay. Technical training may not only be the right fit for certain individuals, but it's also the smart alternative for our macro workforce as jobs and skills continue to shift.
The workforce of the future will rely on complementary skillsets. There will absolutely be a need for both college learning and vocational training. Yet, while Career and Technical Education (CTE) is making a comeback, trade schools and blue-collar jobs often come with unwarranted stigmas. This is especially true for those who grew up with the mantra “stay in school," believing that the path to success is formulaic, starting with a high school degree, followed by college, and sometimes supplemented by graduate school and specialized degrees for a more competitive edge. On the other hand, a “dual training" education model, combining classroom courses and hands-on experience, can be just as fulfilling and lucrative as a post-grad career.
In 2014, less than 5% of young Americans were training as apprentices, compared to 60% of young people in Germany. Leaders at both the government and C-suite level must be better about endorsing technical education and we mustn't perpetuate the stigmas that attempt to devalue this extremely valuable work. American society should underscore and support the importance of diverging career paths, and business leaders should consider how to create opportunities for vocational training within their businesses. In the wise words of Nicholas Lyman, CEO of the Institute for Workplace Skills & Innovation (IWSI America), “apprenticeships match training to real needs, assure a pipeline of can-do people, keep pace with changes in technology, and provide a positive return on investment."