Bridging the Skills Gap

Apprenticeships could help solve employment challenges around the world.

Editor’s note: Today is Manufacturing Day in the United States, and dozens of manufacturing companies around the country are opening their doors to teach students more about the evolving industry. There’s no doubt manufacturing has a bright future, and that bright future needs an equally bright workforce. In this article, UPS’s Frank Sportolari explains a tried-and-true method for attracting the talent that manufacturers need: apprenticeships. 

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We need realistic solutions to help the workforce adapt to the modern world.

With a skills gap across numerous industries and advances in technology changing the future of work as we know it, labor has become a hot topic. This is especially prevalent in the manufacturing and engineering fields, where companies are struggling to recruit the talent needed to keep up with the demands of modern consumers.

No matter your political affiliation, one thing is certain: The global labor market has evolved, and regardless of the cause of this shift, we need realistic solutions to help the workforce adapt as well.

A possible solution? How about something championed by employers, educators and policymakers alike? I’m talking about dual education (known as duale Ausbildung in Germany).

The benefits of dual education

A dual education system combines apprenticeships and a vocational classroom education in one course. Nearly two out of three young Germans participate in the country’s dual education system, which covers hundreds of different occupations from mechanics to office workers to engineers to plumbers.

These programs provide job training and skills certification and often lead to a full-time job upon completion. And while companies need to invest in training, partnering community colleges, schools and local governments lessen the cost burden.

Duale Ausbildung has helped Germany keep its youth unemployment rate at 6.1 percent, less than half the EU average of 14.8 percent.

In return for investing in apprenticeship programs, companies benefit from a pipeline of highly trained workers. Apprenticeships also bolster recruitment, attracting candidates from diverse backgrounds – those people who too often go overlooked.

Students who go through apprenticeship programs reap many benefits as well. On-the-job training gives students a real view of what matters, helping them understand each component of a profession. It also gives students access to mentors who can teach them the ins and outs of the industry.

Perks for seasoned employees

While apprenticeships are valuable for young workers, older employees can also benefit from these programs. In many industries, limited job training opportunities also limit advancement opportunities for older workers. And while traditional retraining opportunities might require additional schooling, apprenticeships allow workers with families to continue making money – all while learning a new skill.

In addition to teaching workers valuable skills, apprenticeship programs also empower workers to start their own businesses in the future. By learning all the skills in a particular profession, apprentices gain the know-how and the connections needed to make the leap into entrepreneurship. In turn, this helps industries innovate and add new jobs.

Apprenticeships have the potential to make a big impact in almost every corner of the world, in both developed and developing nations.

Developed nations

In the U.S., most of today’s jobs require advanced skills – and often times, more than a high school degree. And while four-year degrees are more popular than ever, they can leave students with debt and underwhelming prospects.

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Apprenticeships can reduce inequality and expand opportunity around the world.

According to the National Skills Coalition, middle-skill jobs in computer technology, healthcare, construction, manufacturing and other fields account for 53 percent of the U.S. labor market, but only 43 percent of U.S. workers are trained to meet job requirements for these positions.

This skills gap is a growing concern: There will be 55 million job openings in the economy through 2020. This is due, in part, to the lack of solid training programs that give workers the adaptable skills needed to work in today’s modern workplace.

Through apprenticeship programs, U.S. workers get the training and technological expertise they need to be successful in the modern workplace.

But the U.S. isn’t the only country facing a skills gap.

Studies suggest that Great Britain will need more than 1 million new engineers and technicians by 2020. This requires doubling the country’s current number of engineering graduates.

And in Australia, skills gaps in manufacturing, tech and other industries are threatening the country’s growth prospects.

Throughout almost every developed nation, we are seeing a need for a more skilled and agile workforce, and apprenticeships may be the first step in the right direction to filling that need.

Developing nations

Apprenticeship programs don’t just benefit developed nations – they can help boost the labor markets in developing areas as well. For example, with a quarter of its 163 million people aged between 15 and 20, the labor market in Latin America holds a lot of promise.

However, according to the 2017 Global Talent Competitiveness Index, which ranks countries based on their ability to develop, attract and retain talent, Latin America lags behind. According to the index, the highest-ranking Latin American country is Chile – in 34th place.

As Latin American countries strive to achieve stable, sustainable economic growth, the need for skilled talent is becoming increasingly critical. Apprenticeships can help fuel that growth.

There is a lot of opportunity in Africa as well. As the African middle class continues to grow, rising consumer demands will spur unprecedented economic growth throughout the continent. In fact, by 2034, some African countries are expected to have a larger workforce than either China or India.

Apprenticeship programs have the potential to help address future labor shortages and will also help decrease the amount of youth unemployment on the continent.

Building a future

Apprenticeship programs are a productive solution to reducing inequality and expanding opportunity around the world.

The future of work is certainly changing, and we all must adjust accordingly. Making the investment in apprenticeships now will pay dividends in the future.

It’s a win-win for employees looking to advance in the world of tomorrow and employers scrambling to keep up with the lightning-fast pace of international commerce.

In July, UPS pledged to provide enhanced workforce opportunities to more than 50,000 UPS employees, including access to higher education, apprenticeships, up-skilling and retraining. UPS programs available to its employees include, among others, registered apprenticeships; “Earn and Learn” programs for higher education, as well as several community college partnerships; leadership classes and UPS’s next generation driver training program, UPS Integrad®. To learn more, visit

Frank Sportolari is President, Germany District, at UPS.

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