Restoring apprenticeship programs could close labor shortfall

With the manufacturing industry facing a shortfall in fresh talent to populate its workforce as retirees leave the industry, apprenticeship programs are becoming crucial to closing the gap and fortifying the future. With many states providing tax credits for companies that offer education to novice manufacturers, enrollment in apprenticeships has gone up in some markets. 

Take South Carolina, for example. In 2007, the state rolled out a program called Apprenticeship Carolina, which prepares beginners for careers in a variety of manufacturing trades. Since its inception, the number of apprentices has grown from 777 to almost 11,000. Where there were once 90 companies providing apprenticeship opportunities in 2007, today there are 670. The staggering growth is partially due to the influence of German manufacturers in South Carolina like Bosch and BMW, who introduced their system with the purchase of new plants. 

"I think that the German influence has been great," Brad Neese, director of Apprenticeship Carolina, told NPR. "But we also have seen that it's just a process that makes sense."

Earlier this year, President Obama announced plans to increase the number of apprenticeships in the United States to 750,000, doubling the current figure. Many companies scaled back or eliminated their training operations during the recession, and experts say restoring them makes business sense. By comparison, in Germany, there are 1.8 million registered apprentices, U.S. Labor Secretary Thomas Perez told the Chicago Tribune. 

Training laborers and technicians to learn the fundamentals of electric, pneumatics and hydraulics gives them a head start in breaking into the manufacturing workforce, and ever-modernizing plants and factories often require newcomers to possess some literacy in computer-operated equipment. As the tide turns in favor of apprenticeships, the industry can prepare a new generation of skilled workers for the long haul.