Skip Navigation

Report: Room to Grow: Identifying New Frontiers for Apprenticeships

November 30, 2017
By Joseph B. Fuller and Matthew Sigelman

This Harvard Business School report analyses the scope and potential for apprenticeships in the U.S. economy.

Apprenticeships are one of the few bipartisan ideas in the realm of workforce development, promising an alternative way of training skilled workers without requiring higher education. Instead of accumulating debt, students get to “earn while they learn.” President Obama offered tens of millions of dollars in grants to expand innovative apprenticeship programs, and President Trump recently issued an executive order making it easier for businesses to apply for apprenticeship approvals.

Yet, while apprenticeships are a common part of the employment landscape in Europe, they represent a relatively small number of jobs in the United States. There were only 410,000 active civilian apprentices in 2016, a small fraction of the 23.4 million job postings that year.  And that is after decades of widespread agreement across the political spectrum about the effectiveness of apprenticeships and the desirability of expanding them.