Many argue German style vocational training with apprenticeships is the answer to both people without jobs and employers who cannot find qualified skilled workers.

In Germany, over half of young Germans go into apprenticeships, which can lead to certification in more than 300 different careers. Many are blue-collar jobs ranging from construction to baking, but apprenticeships also cover white-collar fields like information technology and engineering according to an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal.

The apprenticeship program takes two to three years of joint work and study after high school. In Germany’s “dual system,” apprentices work on the job for three or four days a week and spend the rest of the time in academic instruction paid for by the government. This setup has been shown to ease a student’s transition into work. Openings in apprenticeships are based on employers’ demands for workers, and youths who’ve earned a vocational certificate are readily hired.

However, the downside is apprenticeship workers and narrowly trained and once their skills become obsolete they are older and less likely to retrain. This leads to unemployment over age 50 for many Germans. Studies have shown that workers with a more broad general education, like college, are more employable after age 50.

Nevertheless, the Germany experience can provide a good example for some people and trades. Unfortunately the United States has backed away from vocational education. High schools have reduced vocational training in favor of remedial basic s math and reading for students not doing well in the general curriculum. The move toward broad standards and teaching to the test has not helped vocational education.

Community or technical colleges are still trying and do provide something like the mixture of education and training found in the German system but there is little formal tying in with the trades on things like certifications such as in Germany. Also skill certification is much less important in the U.S. labor market than in the Germany and this may have to do with the diminished role labor unions play in American employment.

As for life long employability, the American leaning of providing vocational training to those who are not doing well in school generally, does not predict success when new skills are required.

Still, learning a specific skill is still going to make someone much more marketable than another person who has a general education but not much else going for them. That leg up is worth more than the risk they may have to adapt down the road, because we all have to at some point.

McCormick Law Office attorneys in Milwaukee, Wisconsin support vocational training.