Can America Curb its College Habit?

by Hannah Rosenberg 

I started working at TranZed Apprenticeship Services (TAS) in late September. It’s been my second ‘real’ job since I graduated from the University of Maryland in 2015. In the little over 4 months I’ve been here, conversations about equal opportunity, workforce development and un- and underemployment have flipped my college-only mindset on its head.

Growing up, it wasn’t a question of if, it was a question of where. Where I would go to college, what my major would be—you know the drill. Going out on a limb here, but I’d say a large majority of young people in the U.S. experience the same thing.

Evidence of America’s obsession with college is everywhere. From movies and TV shows set on the quad to mandatory college fairs and “Path to University” posters hanging in the hallways as early as elementary school, it’s pretty hard not to think that it’s college or bust.

Though well-intended, the push to send every young person to college has created an entire generation of Americans so set on a college degree, that in many cases we’re willing to put ourselves tens-of-thousands of dollars in debt with no guarantee of securing a job after graduation.

High Expectations, Higher Debt

In 2016, more than two-thirds of college graduates graduated with debt- $35,000 on average- a number that’s risen 300% in the past two decades (Time Money). That brings the total to approximately 42 million Americans with combined student loan debt of 1.3 trillion dollars (and counting).

Much of the conversation surrounding the college debt crisis focuses on reducing tuition costs and increasing scholarship opportunities. Of course, these are worthy and necessary initiatives, but there’s something these conversations fail to recognize. According to a study conducted by the Center for College Affordability, around 48 percent of employed U.S. college graduates work in jobs that the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) suggests require less than a four-year college education. Eleven percent of employed college graduates are in occupations requiring more than a high-school diploma but less than a bachelor’s, and 37 percent are in occupations requiring no more than a high-school diploma.

Apprenticeship as an Alternative

Basically, we’re sending more people to college than is necessary in the existing workforce landscape and many of them are going into debt because of it. Doesn’t make sense, does it? The creators of the study work for a place called the Center for College Affordability and even they predict a decline in college applicants and a subsequent increase and interest in the “development of new methods of certifying occupation competence.”

Ring any bells?

Programs like apprenticeship, which build skills and experience though a combination of on-the-job and classroom learning, make sense – especially when you consider that while 87 percent of recent grads feel well-prepared to enter the workforce, only 50 percent of hiring managers agree (Payscale). Colleges and universities focus on expansion of mind and knowledge, but often neglect practical skills building.  This leaves graduates unprepared to enter a workforce in which 90 percent of employers prefer to hire candidates with actual experience (NACE survey data). Exceptions exist, of course; co-op programs at universities like Drexel and Northeastern incorporate workplace learning into the curriculum to help combat the skills gap, but without more programs like this, we will continue to produce over-educated, unskilled young people with high expectations and even higher debt.

If it sounds like I’m knocking college, that’s not my aim. If anything, my time at TAS has taught me there is not a singular path that is better or more right than another. There is true value in a degree, but there is also value in investigating and developing alternatives. In a world where the pace of innovation is outpacing traditional post-secondary education, we need common-sense solutions that can keep up.

2017: The Year of the Apprentice

  1. Apprenticeship is good for everyone: the economy, the community, the workforce
  2. Apprenticeship programs work to close the skills gap and reduce un- and underemployment by equipping apprentices with the skills and experience businesses require
  3. Apprenticeships aren’t just for the trades: they’re available in over 1000 occupations including TAS’ current offerings in IT, Digital Marketing and Cyber Security
  4. State-level rebates and tax incentives are available to most employers that hire apprentices
  5. Apprentices are paid, full-time employees from day one, allowing participants to develop their skills without incurring debt
  6. Apprenticeship offers another option for people to secure sustainable, meaningful employment outside traditional routes
  7. Apprentices complete 144 hours of classroom instruction, the content and delivery of which is tailored to complement the 2000 on-the-job hours and enhance the workplace experience
  8. Program mentors work with both the employer and the apprentice to ensure that appropriate and timely progress is made
  9. Apprentices earn nationally recognized credentials through TAS from the Maryland Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation (DLLR)
  10. Those who complete apprenticeship programs earn $300,000 more on average throughout their lifetime than those who don’t
  11. Apprenticeship programs help recruit and develop a highly-skilled workforce for employers
  12. Training plans are flexible to fit both the employer and the apprentices’ needs
  13. Apprenticeship provides a reliable pipeline of candidates that have committed to the development of their skills for a particular role
  14. Apprenticeship improves productivity and increases the bottom line
  15. Apprenticeship reduces recruitment and turnover costs and increases employee retention
  16. Safeguards exist for employers hiring apprentices, i.e. replacement in the event an apprentice has to move or becomes ill
  17. Apprenticeship is an industry-driven and flexible training solution to meet the needs of businesses


Sources: CIPD, U.S. Department of Labor

Employers have 99 problems but Apprenticeship isn’t one

Thanks to National Apprenticeship Week, our official program launch, and media buzz from the Baltimore Business Journal, The Daily Record, The Sun, W-BALTV 11, and—our team has been busy.  In came the calls, the website queries, the Facebook messages, the emails, and even a walk in.

Apprenticeship has struck a chord with the public. We have people as young as 18 and as old as 50 interested in our program. They are career-changers, high school graduates, parents, people struggling to finish community college. While they may differ in age and experience, they have one common thread: the desire to secure a meaningful career and sustainable employment.

The benefits for apprentices are obvious:

  1. Payment from day one.
  2. Customized education plan developed in collaboration with the employer.
  3. Nationally recognized credentials from the Maryland Department of Labor, Licensing and Registration.
  4. International backing from a top-rated UK apprenticeship company, 3aaa (i.e.- they know what they are doing!)
  5. A foot in the door to an emerging industry like IT, Digital & Social Media or Cyber Security.
  6. Help with soft skills like interview strategy and resume construction.
  7. Opportunity for continued advancement.
  8. Support and mentorship from our team.
  9. A future without debt.
  10. A future that begins today and not in four (or more) years.

The benefits for employers may not be as obvious, but are nonetheless, just as valuable.

Employer problem: Candidates do not have the skills and experience employers require.

The root of this problem extends beyond the IT market. America, in general, has millions of job openings, but a discrepancy exists between the skills candidates have and the skills employers require.

According to CNN Money, there are multiple reasons these jobs remain unfilled, including: lack of quality job-training programs when compared to Europe and Asia, unrealistic employer demands (i.e. 65% of postings for secretary positions list college degree as a requirement where only 19% have college degrees) and the college-only mindset preventing people from seeking job-training programs.

Yes, in an employer’s dream market, candidates would come ready-made with the skills and experience to dive in on day one. However, in the current labor landscape, on-the-job training is a necessary step.

Our program is set up to maximize the employer’s investment. We work directly with each employer to develop a curriculum tailored specifically for the role the apprentice will assume, thereby eliminating skill gaps. The curriculum, delivered via a combination of 144 classroom hours and 2000 on-the-job hours, encompasses both hard and soft skills, ensuring that the apprentice makes a smooth transition into the workplace environment.

Employer problem: Recruiting is expensive. It’s also difficult.

Recruiting candidates with a relevant, ready-to-go skill set in the in-demand IT industries our program serves is difficult. Google ‘cyber security job openings’ and you’ll see why. The IT industry is evolving at an unprecedented rate. According to the Cybersecurity Jobs Report, the cyber security workforce shortage could reach 1.5 million by 2019.

The cost of hiring a third-party recruiter can be exorbitant– especially with hard-to-fill positions. Typical recruitment costs run between 15% and 25% of the candidate’s total first year annual earnings (Undercover Recruiter). Additionally, Workopolis names IT Staff among the top 10 most difficult positions to fill, with recruiting costs averaging $14,600 per employee.

Our program is a triple treat. We recruit, train and mentor candidates to ensure long-term success. The cost of our program, paid over time, is not only less than the average third-party recruiting costs for the positions we fill, but we are also able to help employers access Federal and State level incentives for hiring apprentices.

When an employer signs on with our program, we conduct a full assessment of the employer’s needs. This assessment covers everything from the skills the apprentice will need to learn for the position to the workplace culture. We then present the employer with multiple candidates who have made it into our talent pool via a pre-screening process that involves aptitude testing and consultation. Our apprentices are a direct reflection of our program and we are dedicated to finding employers candidates that exhibit the work ethic, talent and attitude necessary to succeed. Additionally, our agreement with the employer offers many safeguards throughout the one-year apprenticeship, which could include replacement of an apprentice or refunds in the event of unforeseen circumstances (i.e.- an out of state move by the apprentice, serious illness, etc.)

Employer problem: Turnover costs money, time and affects workplace culture.

According to ERE Media:

  • Replacing ENTRY LEVEL employees costs 30-50% of their annual salary
  • Replacing MID-LEVEL employees costs 150% of their annual salary
  • Replacing HIGH-LEVEL or highly specialized employees costs 400% of their annual salary ERE Media, April 2015

High turnover rate can be attributed to lack of training/developmental opportunities and low level of employee engagement in addition to qualms with compensation and benefits (HR Daily Advisor).

ERE Media names investing in staff, providing regular feedback and opening lines of communication among the steps employers need to take to retain employees. These three steps are integral to our program and apprenticeship in general.

Hiring an apprentice indicates an investment in not only the future of the company, but the future of the apprentice. This investment is supplemented by the role of our program assessors. The Assessor remains in communication with both the employer and the apprentice throughout employment to ensure the goals of both the employer and the employee are being met.

An additional benefit: When an employer hires an employee, whether through internal or external recruitment resources, there are usually very few safeguards. As previously mentioned, our program provides multiple safeguards to the employer – including replacement of an apprentice.. We maintain a pool of applicants, vetted and screened by our Apprentice Skills Advisor, for this exact purpose. 

Apprenticeship in the UK: Facts & Figures:

The apprenticeship model is well-established in many countries, especially in the United Kingdom. American companies can take note of the successes felt by UK businesses that employ apprentices. According to a report from CIPD:

  • 96% report that apprenticeship has improved their business
  • 72% reported increased productivity (on average £214 a week- around $280- in gains which include increased profits, lower prices and better products)
  • 75% cited reduces recruitment costs of apprentice employers say their Apprenticeship program has helped cut recruitment costs
  • 80% agreed that apprenticeships will play a greater role in their future recruitment policy, resulting in lower staff turnover, fewer skills-related vacancies and reduced recruitment costs.
  • 88% believe apprenticeship helps create a more motivated and loyal workforce.

If you would like to learn more about hiring an apprentice, click here.

If you would like to learn more about becoming an apprentice, click here.

National Apprenticeship Week: News, Notes and Celebration

"Today we are talking about moving in a direction the country has not seen before. And Maryland, I'm proud to say, is at the forefront of what we are able to do with apprenticeship." -Maryland Secretary of Labor Kelly Schulz in her keynote address at Thursday's launch.
“Today we are talking about moving in a direction the country has not seen before. And Maryland, I’m proud to say, is at the forefront of what we are able to do with apprenticeship.”
-Maryland Secretary of Labor Kelly Schulz in her keynote address at Thursday’s launch.

If you had asked someone back in October what they were looking forward to in November, what do you think they would have answered? Fall colors? Thanksgiving? Having an excuse not to shave?

If you had asked anyone from TAS, we would have said: National Apprenticeship Week and TAS’s official program launch.


On Thursday, November 17, 2016, our program held its official launch during the U.S.’s second-ever National Apprenticeship Week. Coupled with the excitement of our approval by the Maryland Apprenticeship and Training Council (MATC) as Maryland’s FIRST non-traditional apprenticeship program, the launch was an enormous success.

It was a privilege to welcome some of Maryland’s most innovative, enterprising and thoughtful minds to celebrate our kickoff. Among them, our speakers: Maryland Secretary of Labor Kelly Schulz, Assistant State Superintendent Dr. Lynne Gilli, Baltimore County Public Schools Coordinator of CTE Douglas Handy, Vice Provost and Dean of UMUC Dr. Matthew Prineas and U.S. Department of Labor Office of Apprenticeship Administrator John Ladd.

National Apprenticeship Week is still in its infancy, but its rapid growth is exciting. When President Barack Obama first issued a proclamation marking the week of November 2, 2015 as the first National Apprenticeship Week in the United States, he cited half a million participants. The number has only since grown.

As Secretary Schulz said in her keynote address: “it’s not rocket science.”

Apprenticeship makes sense. To a lot of people.

At the start of National Apprenticeship Week, we posted on Facebook about the unique bipartisan support driving the apprenticeship movement. It received the most “shares” of any post we have had on the page at the time. People want a way forward, and they recognize apprenticeship as a viable option.

Apprenticeship’s viability in today’s political landscape is a big deal. There are so few programs that facilitate upward mobility that can get a Democrat and a Republican to cosign, but apprenticeship is one of them.

Look no further than our launch’s attendees. We had people of all political persuasions together in one room, getting excited about the same idea.

Apprenticeship’s bipartisan support is materializing into real action. Take the LEAP act, for example. Introduced by Senator Cory Booker, a progressive Democrat from New Jersey and Senator Tim Scott, a Republican from South Carolina, the Leveraging and Energizing America’s Apprenticeship Programs (LEAP) proposes a federal tax credit for employers. If passed, the LEAP act would be a symbol of not only progress, but cooperation.

Earlier in the week, Maryland Governor Larry Hogan (R), shared The Daily Record’s article on our program. For us, his post was more than an endorsement, it was a way to gauge the larger community’s reaction to our program. If you have been on Facebook at all the past few weeks, you might find this hard to believe, but: there was not a single negative comment.

Just a few of the positive comments on Governor Hogan’s Facebook post.

The same excitement expressed by the speakers at our launch was mirrored in the excitement of the community. The response is telling. From employers seeking qualified, skilled individuals to politicians looking to solve un- and under-employment; career-changers looking for options to recent high school graduates looking to gain skills but not debt, apprenticeship is the answer.

Keep up with TAS on Facebook and Twitter

Click here for photos from our official launch