She sees how the apprenticeships provide students, who often enter the program with only vague ideas of what they want to do after they graduate, with real-life skills in all areas. They become better organized, better at communicating and more aware of what it takes to succeed as an adult.
“These students are managing their own schedule, they’re juggling their job, school, and any extracurricular activities. By the time they graduate from high school, they have a better idea what they want to do. They’ve been out there already, talking to mentors and learning about different jobs. Yes, they’re juggling quite a bit, but for a lot of them it will be that huge difference: all of a sudden, things connect for them,” she says.
And these connections have a lasting impact. Of the first group of youths who went through the program in 2000, three of them who had apprenticed at various IT firms (including Kraus’s own son) are currently working for Apple, Microsoft and Google.
My family and I lived in Japan for five years, and my sons attended Japanese public school. There, technology and home economics are an integral part of the core curriculum and are taught for years to students alongside academic courses, just as they are in countries such as South Korea and Finland. My sons loved learning how to boil eggs, sew a button or wield a saw: practical skills they saw as immediately useful and satisfying.
I, in turn, liked how these experiences helped them feel positively about school. Lerman has found that in nations such as Germany and Switzerland (and, increasingly, the U.K.), youth apprenticeship programs are a crucial way of keeping youths feeling engaged and providing them with real skills that can later be matched to real jobs. A review of dropout rates in OECD countries concludes that it is important to provide “a variety of options for students, including ones that provide significant experiences in workplace settings.”
The most intriguing potential benefit of expanding youth apprenticeship programs in the U.S., though, has nothing to do with academic or career success. Rather, these programs can help young men develop relational skills they need. They provide intensive training in maturity, communication skills, working in teams, having a good attitude and the ability to persevere — all crucial for getting and retaining good jobs and, according to Lerman, for being good partners and fathers and having better relationships.
“Learning to communicate well with customers, supervisors and co-workers even in tense situations will certainly help a young person learn critical couple-related skills,” Lerman says. “Ideally, this approach of building skills and problem-solving on the job will have a positive influence on couple skills too.”
Christine Gross-Loh is the author of "Parenting Without Borders: Surprising Lessons Parents Around the World Can Teach Us" (Avery, 2013).
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