A lack of skilled workers is a problem for many countries around the world—although some are working to address the situation. India, for instance, recently announced a new national skills training initiative. The U.S. is also taking significant steps, such as creating an apprenticeship program based on a successful program in Switzerland.


Indian corporations and industry have often cited unskilled labor as a considerable hurdle to filling existing jobs, so it comes as little surprise that the country’s government is working to address the obstacle. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi recently launched a program to offer skills training to more than 400 million Indians over the next seven years, “to make India the world’s human resource capital,” an Agence France-Presse article reports. The program will use the existing network of approximately 12,000 industrial training institutes along with decommissioned railway carriages as mobile-makeshift classrooms for remote areas.


I was more interested to see that the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) is planning to establish an apprenticeship program based on the Swiss vocational education model as a means to fill the skills gap. The U.S. and Switzerland recently signed a Joint Declaration of Intent, to “provide a framework for the two countries to cooperate in such areas as work-based training, curriculum development, credential recognition, pathways to career development and the expansion of programs into new industry sectors,” the Commerce Department announced.


In Switzerland, students as young as 15 sign three- or four-year contracts with an employer’s apprenticeship program, which pays them as they learn skills, according to Martin Dahinden, Swiss ambassador to the U.S., a Society for Human Resource Management article reports. Two-thirds of 16-year-olds in Switzerland choose to start their careers via an apprenticeship as they attend school. After completing an apprenticeship, students may pursue other career paths, join another employer or attend college.


“The Swiss system is a combination of practical learning and classroom training,” Dahinden says. “The whole system is, to a large extent, business-driven. The private sector has an important role to play by providing practical training.”


Also at the Commerce Department’s joint signing with Switzerland, 10 Swiss companies—including Burkhardt Compression, Mercuria Energy and ABB—announced plans for new apprenticeship programs in the U.S. Seven others—including Daetwyler Group, Nestle and Pilatus Aircraft—announced they would expand existing apprenticeship programs in the U.S.


There are challenges in efforts to make apprenticeships an attractive alternative in the U.S. Perhaps the most pressing is to change the perception that apprenticeships are for jobs on a “dirty” manufacturing floor or that they are only for students who failed to go to college.


Apprenticeship in this country has been undervalued and underused, and often limited to construction and trades, says Eric M. Seleznow, deputy assistant secretary of the DOL’s Employment and Training Administration, the Society for Human Resource Management article reports. However, in Switzerland, apprenticeships produce highly skilled employees for an expansive range of occupations, including those in the information technology, advanced manufacturing and health care fields, as well as in traditional trades and crafts, he says.


I am in favor of apprenticeships and applaud efforts to create and promote such initiatives. However, I also think there is a wide-spread misperception about the nature of today’s advanced manufacturing. It certainly seems that to change peoples’ perceptions, both students and parents must be addressed because, in many cases, it’s the parents who are turned off by the manufacturing industry’s outdated image and are set on sending their children to college.


What are your thoughts? Do you see a need for both more apprenticeships and efforts to change perceptions about manufacturing?