North Carolina community colleges are stepping up their efforts to deal with a growing skilled labor shortage through apprenticeship programs. And President Trump, the apprentice in chief from his days as the TV show host, is calling for every high school to offer apprentice programs. But is this an answer to America’s labor shortage?

NCSU Economist Dr. Michael Walden sees pros and cons.

“The White House says apprenticeships could match workers with millions of open jobs,” The Associated Press reported Tuesday about the President’s visit to Wisconsin to tour and tout apprentice programs. “But the administration is reluctant to devote more taxpayer money to the effort.”

Walden, who has researched and written extensively about apprenticeship programs, offered his views in response to a series of questions from The Skinny.

“The Triangle area, with its heavy presence of technology companies, is a perfect area to have IT apprenticeship programs,” Walden says. “I think they are a ‘win-win-win’ for the student, the college, and the community.”

He also says the rapidly changing world of work means employees face the prospect of training for one career then needing skills for a new career within a few years.

“[A]ll new workers entering the job market today – including many from four-year college and university programs – need to be prepared to possibly change occupations several times in their career,” he stresses. “So the future worker may be one who workers ten years – then retrains – then works a few more years – then retrains again.

” If this is the future, on-the-job training through apprenticeships may actually become more prevalent. “

Not a new idea – but an emerging need

Apprenticeship programs are hardly a new idea, Walden points out, but they are timely.

“The revival of apprenticeships (my late father began his career with an apprenticeship after WW II) is prompted by two factors,” he says.

“First is the apparent disconnect many graduating students (including high school and college) have with the job market. Many experience no tie between what they learned in school and what they need on the job.

“Second is the shortage many employers say they face in hiring qualified individuals for their jobs. So the notion is to give students real experience with real jobs so they can ‘hit the ground running’ with a job after graduation.”

Apprentice vs. intern

So what about internships? Are they better than apprenticeships?

Both have benefits, Walden says, but …

“Apprenticeships are more intense than internships. Internships give students a taste of the job – apprenticeships actually train them for the job.”

The training is crucial to Wake Tech’s internship program, which recently landed a dozen students paying positions at Lenovo.

Johnston County, Wilson County and other CCs also see the advantages internships offer.

And the lack of skilled, trained workers is a legitimate concern for a growing number of employers.

As for students, they can find a job BEFORE they graduate.

“Students benefit in graduating from school knowing exactly what they can do and what job they can obtain,” Walden says.

And employers find workers.

“Businesses benefit from an increase in supply of qualified workers and interaction with the future workforce,” Walden points out.

Upside, downside

Not that apprenticeships are a perfect solution.

“The potential downside is apprenticeships limit – at least initially – the kinds of jobs the student can do,” Walden explains.

“Many futurists argue that with the job market changing so rapidly – for example, with technology replacing workers in many tasks – students are better with a broader education that will better prepare them to change occupations. Quite simply, the worry is an individual training to do a particular set of work tasks today may face the possibility those tasks could be performed in the future by technology.”

Ready for prime time?

And even an apprenticeship might not have a worker entirely ready to go.

“For well-paying IT jobs, I think apprenticeships help, but likely the individual will need more intense training at a four-year program in computer science and related fields, especially if the individual wants to have a broader range of job options,” Walden says.