There is a lot of opportunity to expand apprenticeships in the U.S., but right now apprentices are limited to a relatively few occupations, and relatively few openings.
There is bipartisan support for investing more in apprenticeship programs, but before we expand them, we need to understand the apprenticeships we have. As part of our research with the Managing the Future of Work Project at Harvard Business School, we used the Burning Glass job postings database and other sources to profile the current state of this approach.
Out of the 810 occupations tracked by the U.S. Department of Labor, 27 are regularly filled by apprentices. In 2016, there were roughly 410,000 active apprentices in the United States (not counting those who have been apprentices in the past, of course).
Traditionally—and unlike other countries—American apprentices have been in skilled trades. Of the top 27 occupations, 17 are classified in the Construction and Extraction occupational family. The rest of them are either in Installation, Maintenance and Repair or Production occupations. By contrast, in Switzerland 240 occupations are open to apprentices.
In addition, none of these occupations get workers exclusively from apprenticeships. If these occupations relied solely on apprentices, that would cover another 1.1 million positions.
One striking point as you look at the list below: there aren’t really any new occupations here. There are no IT jobs, for example, no service jobs, and the installation roles lack newer technologies like solar voltaic panel installers. That’s why our research on apprenticeships identified these as some of the promising fields for expansion.
Then again, the fact that these are established programs is one reason why they work: there has been long-term buy-in from employers, educators, unions, and workers. Re-creating that network is one of the major challenges in building apprenticeships into a real alternative in newer jobs.
The 27 Core Occupations for Apprentices in the U.S.
|Boilermakers||Construction and Extraction Occupations|
|Brickmasons and Blockmasons||Construction and Extraction Occupations|
|Carpenters||Construction and Extraction Occupations|
|Cement Masons and Concrete Finishers||Construction and Extraction Occupations|
|Construction Laborers||Construction and Extraction Occupations|
|Drywall and Ceiling Tile Installers||Construction and Extraction Occupations|
|Electricians||Construction and Extraction Occupations|
|Elevator Installers and Repairers||Construction and Extraction Occupations|
|Floor Layers, Except Carpet, Wood, and Hard Tiles||Construction and Extraction Occupations|
|Glaziers||Construction and Extraction Occupations|
|Operating Engineers and Other Construction Equipment Operators||Construction and Extraction Occupations|
|Painters, Construction and Maintenance||Construction and Extraction Occupations|
|Plumbers, Pipefitters, and Steamfitters||Construction and Extraction Occupations|
|Reinforcing Iron and Rebar Workers||Construction and Extraction Occupations|
|Roofers||Construction and Extraction Occupations|
|Sheet Metal Workers||Construction and Extraction Occupations|
|Structural Iron and Steel Workers||Construction and Extraction Occupations|
|Electrical Power-Line Installers and Repairers||Installation, Maintenance, and Repair Occupations|
|Heating, Air Conditioning, and Refrigeration Mechanics and Installers||Installation, Maintenance, and Repair Occupations|
|Industrial Machinery Mechanics||Installation, Maintenance, and Repair Occupations|
|Millwrights||Installation, Maintenance, and Repair Occupations|
|Telecommunications Equipment Installers and Repairers, Except Line Installers||Installation, Maintenance, and Repair Occupations|
|Telecommunications Line Installers and Repairers||Installation, Maintenance, and Repair Occupations|
|Structural Metal Fabricators and Fitters||Production Occupations|
|Tool and Die Makers||Production Occupations|
|Heavy and Tractor-Trailer Truck Drivers||Transportation and Material Moving Occupations|
U.S. Department of Labor, Burning Glass Technologies data
To find out more, read our new report with Harvard Business School, Room to Grow: Identifying New Frontiers for Apprenticeships.
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