Colleges May Soon Credit Apprenticeships

The Texas Workforce Commission is “working to ensure that all community colleges in the state accept apprenticeship credits through the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board,” according to a segment on Houston Pubic Media.

Julian Alvarez, the Texas Workforce Commissioner for Labor, says “Many folks that actually graduate from an apprenticeship school, a DOL-recognized certification of completion, many of them have to go to out-of-state schools to receive an associate degree.”

Also from the piece:

Last week, Alvarez visited several community colleges for Texas Apprenticeship Week.

That includes Houston’s San Jacinto College, which offers apprenticeships with several employers, including Dow Chemical.

Sarah Janes, associate vice chancellor for continuing and professional development at the school, said the program is a success there.

“The completion rate of the students and how well they end up doing and they stay with the company, that’s pretty close to an 80 percent success rate,” she said.

The hope is to get the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board to approve course credits for apprenticeships by January.

It’s not hard to find individuals who are skeptical that apprenticeships in the U.S. will ever reach the participation level of many European countries. See this previous post, for instance. However, if apprenticeships are going to work, community colleges are the best fit to offer them.

The piece is short on specifics, but the model presumably necessitates close communication with local employers who need highly trained employees. It might involve, say, the petrochemical industry in the Gulf Coast region or agribusiness in the Rio Grande Valley and High Plains. There are many smaller pockets of opportunity throughout the state.

Money will always be a challenge, since apprenticeships are expensive. But new federal dollars are reportedly in the pipeline, and apprenticeships enjoy bipartisan support in Congress—a rarity these days.

Due to the diversity of our society and economy, there is no scalable national cookie-cutter to design more apprenticeships. That’s the beauty of the link to local community colleges.

We still have a problem with the psychology of convincing ambitious students that apprenticeships are a good choice. It may mean less emphasis on the bachelor’s degree—a hard sell in many cases. Also, technology changes so rapidly that we have to be on the watch for possible obsolescence in the future. A lot of our underemployment problems today stem from skills that once seemed indispensable but are no longer needed, due to newer techniques or off-shoring.