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STATE OF OPPORTUNITY. Can Kids in Michigan Get Ahead?
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Technology

Tech & Opportunity: How much impact will apprenticeships have?

Gov. Rick Snyder hopes a new focus on promoting apprenticeships for young people will solve two of the state's problems. 

The first is a lack of well-paying jobs for recent college grads. The other is that companies around the state complain they can't find skilled workers. 

In theory, apprenticeships could solve this problem because young people who participate go to community college and work toward building a specific skill with a company. At the end  of it, the apprentice has a guaranteed job and the company has a promise that worker will stay for at least two years.

The state has paired with a group of community colleges and German employers to run a state-sponsored apprenticeship program for high school seniors and college students interested in a select few fields. The deadline for the program is Feb. 21, so those wanting to be a mechatronics technician better look up what that is and apply. Our colleague Tracy Samilton has done a few stories on the program recently. 

Will it work? 

Michigan's apprenticeship program is based on Germany's approach to creating skilled workers and a well-educated workforce. It's an approach that works well for them. But they've been doing it for over a hundred years and the education system aims to prepare students for these apprenticeships from a young age. 

England tried to adopt a similar program but with less impressive results, perhaps because the program didn't start training students early enough. 

In Michigan, the quality of career and technical education varies tremendously from county to county and school to school, meaning some students are more likely to be prepared for these programs than others. 

The success of these programs is dependent on the number of companies that participate, because that's where the guaranteed jobs come in. And it might be hard to get companies to participate.

An economist I spoke to a few years ago about the lack of high-skilled workers in Michigan set me straight. I can't remember his name anymore but I have always remembered the conversation. He said it's not that there are no high skilled workers in Michigan, it's that there are no high-skilled workers willing to work for what companies want to pay them. 

That was just his opinion. But if it's true, it means getting businesses to invest even more on the front end, something that might be difficult in today's business environment. 

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