President Donald Trump wants to make apprenticeships more successful than on his TV series, “The Apprentice,” which Fox News determined “was better at choosing future reality show hosts and camera chasers than … finding people who can actually run companies.”
We’ve agreed apprenticeships — along with community college training programs — can help fill the gap between thousands of good available jobs and workers with the skills to fill them. But caveats exist.
Trump’s executive order last month stated, “Federal programs must do a better job matching unemployed American workers with open jobs, including the 350,000 manufacturing jobs currently available. Expanding apprenticeships and reforming ineffective education and workforce development programs will help address these issues, enabling more Americans to obtain relevant skills and high-paying jobs. Apprenticeships provide paid, relevant workplace experiences and opportunities to develop skills that employers’ value.”
Unfortunately, recent studies indicate apprenticeships alone won’t solve a multifaceted problem ranging from the need for better general education and lifelong learning to extricating young males from video games.
Eric Hanushek of Stanford University’s Hoover Institution wrote in the Wall Street Journal last month the apprenticeship proposal emulates a German program that has kept youth unemployment in single digits while training them to receive certification in 350 different fields.
But after age 50, those with narrowly focused skills do worse than those with a good general education. Even European nations stressing vocational educational haven’t solved the lifelong-learning issue.
The German apprenticeship experience — as with other European Union nations — has deep traditions, high standards and excellent relationships with industry. The U.S. high school vocational education program has trended downward, leaving even fundamentals to community colleges, and ties to industries aren’t as well forged.
But even that isn’t the primary problem, Hanushek wrote. Instead, what the U.S. needs is “more general cognitive skills that give workers the ability to adapt to new circumstances and new jobs. In that area, American schools are not competitive with their international competitors — and more apprenticeships won’t help.”
He co-authored a Brookings Institution paper last month with Ludger Woessmann, raising red flags about vocational education “improving the transition from schooling to work, but it also appears to reduce the adaptability of workers to technological and structural change in the economy. As a result, the advantages of vocational training in smoothing entry into the labor market have to be set against disadvantages later in life, disadvantages that are likely to be more severe as we move more into being a knowledge economy.”
“The caution here,” they added, “is that we should not lock in this situation for the future by failing to provide basic skills to the next generation.”
The Trump administration and society face possibly an even more vexing problem — young males disinterested in working.
The National Bureau of Economic Research issued a report earlier this month that video games have caused younger men to work fewer hours. On average, men ages 21-30 worked 203 fewer hours in 2015 compared to 2000.
A Census Bureau survey last year found young men lacking college degrees replaced 75 percent of working time with time on the computer, mostly playing video games.
It gets worse.
In 2016, 22 percent of men ages of 21-30 with less than a bachelor’s degree reported not working during the previous year compared to 9.5 percent in 2000, according to the White House’s Council of Economic Advisers.
“Strong evidence that the increase in the number of less-educated young men who are not working is not entirely a result of weak demand for their services,” said Alan Krueger, then head of the Obama administration’s Council of Economic Advisers. “They find evidence that a portion ... of the decrease in work time of less-educated young men can be a result of the appeal of video games.”
And they feel no compulsion to work.
According to the Pew Research Center, two-thirds of nonworking, less-educated young men live with parents or family members compared to a third before the recession. For the first time since the Depression, more men 18-34 live with parents than romantic partners.
Men are more likely to play games without a “stopping cue” — an end to an episode or act — and are engaged with a larger community providing social gratification.
Meanwhile, the 41 percent of the women in the game-playing population are more likely to be on mobile games filling down time, according to the Entertainment Software Association. (Women also are the majority — 57 percent — on college campuses.)
Apprenticeships are a good start, but achieving life-long learning is an even better long-term goal for the economy, but it has yet to be discussed.
Alas, we doubt any executive order or legislation will provide an antidote for a generation of video-game-addled young men disinterested in participating in work or society outside the home.