Apprentices train for white-collar jobs

Apprenticeships aren’t just for future plumbers, writes Hechinger’s Matt Krupnick. Community colleges are partnering with employers to create apprenticeships to fill white-collar jobs.

At Illinois’ Harper College, a community college just northwest of Chicago, Switzerland-based Zurich Insurance asked educators to try a Swiss-style apprenticeship program to train more claims adjusters and other workers for its Chicago-area offices. Zurich pays tuition and other expenses for each student, and each spends three days a week getting paid to work at the insurance company and two days in the classroom.

. . . The program lasts two years, after which the graduates have an associate degree in business administration with insurance industry certificates.

More than 150 people applied for the first 24 spots.

After two years, they’ll earn an associate degree in business administration with insurance industry certification. They’ll also have two years of job experience.

Harper College's insurance apprenticeship students.

Some of Harper College’s insurance apprenticeship students.

Even academic courses, such as English and math, are focused on skills relevant to the insurance industry. Students don’t read Shakespeare, writes Krupnick. They learn technical writing.

The Department of Labor, which certifies apprenticeship programs, is slow keeping up with the times, writes Krupnick. Its list “includes accordion-making and pneumatic tube repair apprenticeships among more than 1,200 apprenticeship-friendly professions, for example, but not yet cybersecurity.”

New America will analyze how to expand high-quality high school apprenticeships, writes Mary Alice McCarthy. “Our young people need options other than just enrolling in college and hoping they beat the odds.”

In prison — and in college

Some prison inmates will receive federal college aid under the $30 million Second Chance Pell Grant program.

Under a pilot program, 12,000 inmates at 141 state and federal institutions will receive grants worth up to $5,815 to pursue a two- or four-year degree from an approved college or university,  reports USA Today.

The 1994 crime bill explicitly banned giving Pell aid to prisoners. Secretary of Education John King is using “experimentation authority under the Higher Education Act” to evade the ban.

Donald Daniels, who spent the last 29 years in and out of prison, is now an A student at his California prison's school. Photo: Jayne Kamin-Oncea/Pro Photography Network

Donald Daniels, who spent the last 29 years in and out of prison, is now an A student at his California prison’s school. Photo: Jayne Kamin-Oncea/Pro Photography Network

The program is focused on prisoners likely to be released — and job hunting — within five years, reports Inside Higher Ed.  “Most of the colleges chosen will offer classes in person at the correctional facilities, while some will offer online classes.” In addition,  many “plan to offer a range of support services and tailor their instruction to local labor markets.”

Many of the 67 participating colleges are community colleges with expertise in job training, but others are universities such as Rutgers and Ashland University (Ohio) with experience in correctional education.

“Inmates who participate in any kind of educational program behind bars—from remedial math to vocational auto shop to college-level courses—are up to 43 percent less likely to reoffend and return to prison,” according to a 2013 RAND study. “They also appear to be far more likely to find a job after their release, and the social stability that comes with it.”

Every dollar invested in correctional education saves nearly five dollars, RAND concluded, by keeping former inmates out of prison.

Two-thirds of prison inmates are high school dropouts and many are illiterate. But they’ve got plenty of time to study. Online education makes it more feasible to educate prisoners.

From special ed to the workforce


Kelly Custer teaches horticulture students at River Terrace Special Education Center in Washington, D.C. Photo: Grey Korhonen/Atlantic

After years of “inclusion,” only two-thirds of special-ed students earn a regular high school diploma. Those with intellectual or developmental disabilities are even less likely to complete high school. As adults, most are unemployed or underemployed.

Now, “specialized workforce academies for students with intellectual/developmental disabilities are growing in popularity,” reports Alia Wong in The Atlantic.

At the River Terrace Special Education Center in Washington, D.C., mentally retarded students who’ve completed a mainstream high school train for jobs in plant care, hospitals and hotels.

When they’re in the classroom, students learn soft skills—What does it mean to have a job? How do you keep a job? How do you deposit a paycheck?—and practice their work tasks in retrofitted classrooms. (Students in the hospitality track, for example, learn how to prepare a basic meal, make a bed, clean a bathroom, and load a laundry cart in a room that’s equipped with a bed, a hotel-like bathroom, a washing machine, a dining table, and more.) But students spend most of their days doing internships in their respective industries, all of which are paid.

Adrian Bland tried various jobs at Embassy Suites — housekeeping, laundry attendant, dishwasher and door person — before deciding she likes to be a porter. A June graduate, she’s been hired for a permanent job.

Jannika Napper works at a VA hospital

Jannika Napper works at a VA hospital, where she washes tables, stacks trays, restocks the food court and other tasks.

“Many of [my students] have experienced school as a place where, academically, they’re left out,” said Kelly Custer, who teaches in the horticulture track. “In previous experiences they were the ones that were doing very poorly in class; now, they’re getting 100s in their classwork, and you can see . . .  it changes their confidence—and that spills over to the worksite.”

Workforce academies are controversial, writes Wong. Some critics value inclusion above all. Others complain “the programs pigeonhole severely disabled students into a vocational path and as a result never encourage them to consider college.”

Some colleges offer special programs for intellectually disabled students, she writes. However, these focus on social skills, not preparing students for jobs they might be able to do as well as anyone.

Some River Terrace students have exited 13+ years of mainstreaming without having learned how to read. Half didn’t complete their year-long program this year and only five got permanent jobs. Should they rest consider college?

Most young adults with significant disabilities can work in non-sheltered jobs, according to the Collaboration To Promote Self-Determination.

College prep, job training — or both?

While most high school graduates go on to college, “nearly 40 percent of those who go to four-year colleges and some 70 percent of students at community college will never earn their degree,” comments John Tulenko on PBS NewsHour. Should more teens train for the workforce instead of prepping for college?

Marissa Galloway, Norton learned cabinet making at Southeastern Regional Vocational Technical School. Photo: Mike George

Marissa Galloway learned cabinet making at Southeastern Regional Vocational Technical School. Photo: Mike George

“It’s the shame of our nation, when you look at, a student comes out of high school, not knowing what they want to do, goes to college, drops out,” says David Wheeler, principal of Southeastern Regional Vocational Technical High School, south of Boston. “Now they’re in debt, without a job, and not knowing what they want to do.”

In addition to academic subjects, students at Massachusetts’ regional vo-tech schools learn skilled trades.

They do as well academically as students in traditional high schools. (Wheeler’s students outscored the state average.)

They don’t have to “skip college,” as Tulenko puts it. Statewide, 60 percent of regional vo-tech students enroll in college, while others go directly to the workforce.

Gov. Charlie Baker has proposed expanding the state’s vo-tech schools.

Training first, then a bachelor’s

Training-based pathways to a bachelor’s degree would enable students to learn, earn and then — when and if they’re ready — learn and earn some more, writes Mary Alice McCarthy in Flipping the Paradigm.

Some colleges now offer “upside-down degrees.” Students complete two years of technical training before taking general education courses.

Others are developing  “applied” bachelor’s degrees that build on students’ technical expertise.

More than 80 percent of community college students want a bachelor’s degree, but only 25 percent transfer to a four-year institution. The transfer pathway is “full of potholes,” says Brian Mitchell, chair of Edvance Foundation.

Many paths lead upward

 From Fordham’s EduWatch 2016: 6 Themes For Education

Job skills can be first step to college

Students in the Jewish Homes’s geriatric career development program take summer classes taught by registered nurses at Hostos Community College.
New York City students in the Jewish Homes’s geriatric career development program take summer classes at Hostos Community College. Photo: Meredith Kolodner

Training to care for the elderly is helping low-income New York City students qualify for jobs — and go to college, reports Meredith Kolodner in the Washington Monthly. Jewish Homes, which needs aides and nurses, offers help finishing high school and applying to college and paid internships.

Mercedez Vargas was struggling to complete her high school diploma at a last-chance night school, when she learned about the Jewish Homes’ program. “As I started interacting with the elderly, I actually found it was something I would like,” said Vargas, who is 20. “Now I actually love it.”

Participants come after school for four hours twice a week to get academic, job and college prep, as well as a free meal. Juniors go on college visits and rising seniors take a 10-week summer course aimed at passing the state nursing assistant exam.

While their high schools have an average graduation rate of 61 percent, nearly 100 percent of students in the program graduate.

The Jewish Home hires program graduates as nursing assistants for $15 an hour. Registered nurses, who need a college degree, average more than $36 an hour. Eighty percent of participants since 2009 have earned a degree or are pursuing one, writes Koldner. But it’s a challenge.

These students often come from high schools where they got good grades for simply showing up and turning in their work on time, said program director Toni Sexton.

. . . “We’ve coined the phrase ‘gentle dream crushing and gentle dream redirection,’ because our students going pre-med is a waste of their financial aid,” said Sexton. “Not because they’re not bright — we have lots of bright, very intelligent young people who are incredibly underprepared, and at this point it’s nearly impossible for them catch up.”

Vargas works evenings and weekends as a home health care aide, while taking full-time community college courses to prepare for the nursing assistant exam. Once she passes that hurdle, her mentors are encourging her to go for a nursing degree.

Job training, BA — or a third way

Our higher-ed system, which puts general courses at the front end, doesn’t work for many students, writes Mary Alice McCarthy, a senior policy analyst at New America Foundation, in Rethinking the Bachelor’s Degree.

She has two nephews who weren’t academically motivated.

Allen completed a political science degree in six expensive years. He’s unemployed and living with his parents.

Jeffrey apprenticed at a restaurant while taking community college classes and works as a chef. But the pay is low and he needs a bachelor’s degree to move up to a more lucrative restaurant management job. His credits and experience don’t count toward that four-year degree.

In Washington state, Evergreen State College offers an “upside-down bachelor’s degree, with the technical education coming first, followed by two years of broader, general education,” she writes.

Other community colleges in Washington offer a bachelor’s of applied science, designed to build on a two-year technical degree, she writes. For example, the BAS in manufacturing operations at Clover Park Technical College adds business and management skills to a two-year machinery repair program.

McCarthy worries about “the notion that everyone must earn a bachelor’s degree to be successful.” Some schools are offering a bachelor’s of applied science in dental hygiene, while many dental hygienists qualify with a one-year certificate.

Nearly two-thirds of job postings for executive assistants require a bachelor’s degree, even though only a fifth of people in the job now are college graduates, reports Burning Glass Technologies.

Obama plans college aid for prisoners

Some prison inmates will receive federal college aid, despite a 1994 law that cut off Pell Grants to prisoners. The Education Department says Pell for prisoners is legal under a waiver provision for experimental programs.

Before 1994, prisoners could use Pell Grants to cover tuitions, books and other education-related expenses. Online learning should make it easier and cheaper to provide coursework to inmates.

President Barack Obama tours a cell block at the Federal Correctional Institution in El Reno, Okla., on July 16. PHOTO: SAUL LOEB/AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE/GETTY IMAGES

President Obama tours a federal prison in Oklahoma on July 16. Photo: Saul Loeb, Agence France-Presse/Getty Images

Under the Obama administration’s plan, grants of up to $5,775 a year would go directly to colleges and universities that provide courses to prisoners.

Of 700,000 prisoners released each year, more than 40 percent will be back behind bars within three years, said Education Secretary Arne Duncan, who announced the program at a Maryland prison on Friday.

“For every dollar invested in prison education programs, this saves taxpayers on average $5,” said Lois Davis, who authored a RAND study.  Inmates who take college classes are 16 percent less likely to return to prison, she estimated.

Congress provided nearly $300 million last year to fund job training and re-entry programs for prisoners, said Republican Lamar Alexander, who chairs the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, in a statement.

Pell aid might be a “worthwhile idea for some prisoners,” but the administration has no authority to ignore the law, Alexander said. “Congress can address changes to Pell grants as part of the Senate education committee’s work to reauthorize the Higher Education Act this fall.”

Remediation + job training = success

Jason Broad and Yalchen Abdulkhaliq work on making a scissors clamp in the machine shop during a class at Shoreline Community College. Machining requires students to have a solid understanding of algebra, calculus and trigonometry. (Mike Siegel / The Seattle Times)
Jason Broad and Yalchen Abdulkhaliq make a scissors clamp in the machine shop at Shoreline Community College, where they’re also learning algebra. (Mike Siegel / The Seattle Times)

When community college students have to pass remedial math before taking college-level courses, most give up, writes Katherine Long in the Seattle TimesTeaching basic skills with job training has raised success rates at Washington state community colleges.

The grinding sound of metal on metal filtered through the walls of Chris Lindberg’s math class at Shoreline Community College, but his students had no trouble tuning out the noise.

“We’ve got a 10-inch-diameter grinding wheel, and it’s turning at 1,910 revolutions per minute,” Lindberg said, jotting the numbers on a whiteboard. “What is the surface speed?”

Students will use their new algebra skills in the shop next door, “setting up complex lathes and milling machines, each the size of a small SUV,” writes Long.

Shelley Campbell measures a part she made for a final exam in her I-BEST machine shop class at Shoreline Community College. (Mike Siegel/Seattle Times/TNS)

Shelley Campbell measures a part she made in her I-BEST machine shop class at Shoreline Community College. (Mike Siegel/Seattle Times/TNS)

I-BEST (Integrated Basic Education and Skills Training) students “are nine times as likely to earn a workforce credential as students who follow the traditional path of taking remedial classes first,” she reports.

Troy Briones, who struggled with math in high school, served in the Army artillery. Now 25, he’s training to be a machinist. “Math is everything in machining,” he said. “The best part of the program is it’s very hands-on. As soon as the lecture ends, you go straight into the lab and try it … the instructors are with you every step of the way.”

Shelley Campbell, 53, is retraining after being laid off by Boeing.

Students can earn a basic manufacturing certificate in one quarter, preparing them for an entry-level job, or go longer to master higher-level skills. Machinists start at $15 to $35 per hour.

In Building paths to the middle class, the American Enterprise Institute looks at four high-quality career tech programs in high school and community college.