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August 30, 2019

Apprenticeships: New Programs Have Higher Academic Demand


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New Apprenticeships Demand Higher-Level Academics, Teacher Engagement 

Last summer, a young welder invited me to evaluate apprenticeships at Newport News Shipbuilding, where students train to work on nuclear aircraft carriers and submarines. As I watched this woman and others engaged in apprenticeships balance a torch in one hand while reading a tablet with the other, it was immediately clear that this was much more than a traditional industrial arts training program. 

The Apprentice School—now in its 100th year—has evolved to emphasize a much higher level of academic achievement than its traditional training. The school now reaches out to community colleges and local school districts to show potential students how their success as an apprentice is directly tied to their classroom learning. It also has increased integration of academic subjects into the program. Mathematics and critical thinking skills are key as blueprints need to be interpreted and instructions applied, while those in apprenticeships also must write reports outlining how they have applied new solutions to demanding problems.

Innovation in Apprenticeships is Becoming Extensive

While Newport News has a large apprenticeships program, it is not the only example or model. Apprenticeships are being rolled out in many forms as employers recognize the value of having students learn firsthand about the workplace and the intricacies of their businesses. Some require direct coordination with K-12 programs and allow students on site several days a week. This gives teachers new opportunities to connect academic studies with meaningful and demanding work.

Apprenticeships now looking for higher academics and teacher engagement

Apprenticeships and the Elements of Success

The Elements of Success is a tool that the Learning First Alliance developed with the business and manufacturing community to help schools build connections to careers and workplaces. This document outlines how teachers and businesses can exchange what is needed to bring this content to the schools. It is a process that stresses internships, communications and professional learning by each community. It is not the business community coming to fix the schools. The Elements of Success provides the blueprint of what educators know is successful; the business community is working to provide schools with the specifics of how their world of work has changed.

Specifically, this means that teachers and principals need to be engaging with the manufacturing and business community to learn how to adapt their instruction so that it fits in with the needs of the career fields. On one hand, this means that fourth-grade teachers need to use career examples when teaching. But how would they learn about these ideas? This is one of the issues, and the Elements of Success provides examples of how schools and communities can share ideas. For instance, one way is to have business professionals come into the school and provide lessons and examples. Newport News Shipbuilding also has implemented summer programs for teachers to actually train and work in manufacturing jobs, or visit and observe what is taking place in the manufacturing world. 

This doesn’t happen by chance. School leaders need to reach out to Chambers of Commerce, unions, Rotary Clubs and other organizations to make the connections. Some larger businesses may already have programs, while smaller businesses may not have the capacity—yet both have the need for more students to be “career-ready.”

And changes in the fields happen quickly. A few years ago, I observed a sixth-grade teacher using a tablet to teach writing as an example of cutting-edge curricula. The teacher had been provided the professional development to make the lesson meaningful and used professional discretion to select the content. Yet today, teaching writing using a tablet is almost a baseline action. Some schools are using the same tablet as part of a virtual reality exploration of how various wires are placed behind a wall. Leaving information for the next worker is the type of specific tasks that schools need to teach for a lesson. That also means businesses need to connect with their communities’ teachers to bring the application of writing and virtual reality into classrooms. Looking forward, we can also see that schools will need to be thinking about what teachers need to integrate artificial intelligence into their schools.

In the school of the near future, success will be measured by how the professional teachers integrate what the business and manufacturing professionals present as their immediate needs and how the teachers take that knowledge to prepare their students for demands that go beyond “immediate.”

This is going to take all of us working together to reach across our divides—which in turn will create more support for schools, teachers and students.

Download The Elements of Success: 10 Million Speak on Schools That Work 

Richard M. Long is Executive Director of the Learning First Alliance, a coalition of 12 national education organizations including AFT. Dr. Long is a nationally known advocate, writer and commentator on pre-K-12 issues and federal policy. Prior to joining LFA, he spent the past four decades working in education policy, including 37 years as the Government Relations Director for the International Reading Association. He also concurrently served as Executive Director/Government Relations Director for the National Title I Association from 1995 to 2014. He earned bachelors, masters and doctorate degrees from George Washington University. 

Learning First Alliance

The Learning First Alliance is a partnership of leading education organizations that together represent more than 10 million educators, parents and local policymakers dedicated to improving student learning in America's public schools.

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