Industries are necessarily different and unique. But if they share one thing in common, it’s that they’re all experiencing staffing shortages — from teachers to bus drivers, nurses, STEM professionals, and healthcare workers. Organizations of all varieties are having a difficult time finding skilled and motivated talent. And these aren’t positions we can simply replace by bowing down at the altar of AI. As workforce solutions leaders, we’ll need to start thinking more creatively about how to overcome the gaps. Focusing on vocational education, a bygone but successful model in American schools, could be the answer. In Europe, this dual educational model still exists — and has continually evolved — to produce a workforce that thrives. Today, some U.S. communities are taking note, presenting an excellent opportunity for the nation’s workforce, businesses, staffing providers, and economy.
Resurrecting Skilled Trade Education
In a past era, American workers had no trouble finding jobs, providing for their families, and buying homes. That was during a time where trade, technical, and vocational schools still held a lot of sway. But at some point, society decided to perpetuate a narrative that only pricey college degrees opened the pathway to a successful career and financial stability. More recently, a growing number of business leaders and workforce experts have been calling for a renaissance in the schools that teach skilled trades. Yet if we follow the example of Europe’s dual education system, we can modernize the concept to broaden those pathways to opportunity.
In a report for Radio Boston, journalists Bart Tocci, Tiziana Dearing, John Bender, and Amanda Beland illustrated how the community of Lynn, Massachusetts, was trying to close workforce staffing shortages by training high school students to fill them.
“One potential solution is to get young people into their desired professions with on the job experience and training,” the reporters said. “Local nonprofit Northeast Arc is trying it with their ‘Pathways to Opportunities’ program at Lynn Classical High School. They connect students with mentorships, internships, and real world experiences in their own communities.”
Polytechnic schools were once a mainstay in the U.S. education system. They definitely have a role to play in the current staffing crisis. But the nature of work has also changed. This is where the dual education model of Europe can provide a more comprehensive blueprint.
The Dual Education Model
The dual education model, also known as the dual training system or apprenticeship system, is an educational approach that combines theoretical learning in a classroom setting with practical training in a workplace. In this model, students split their time between attending school and working in a company, where they receive on-the-job training and gain real-world experience in their chosen field. The system is most commonly found in Germany, Austria, Switzerland, and South Korea, but it is also being adopted by other countries.
In the dual education model, students typically spend two to three days a week in a company, where they learn practical skills on the job. The remaining days are spent at a vocational school, where they learn the theoretical underpinnings of their chosen field. The dual education model is designed to give students the skills and knowledge they need to succeed in the workforce. At the same time, companies benefit from having a source of well-trained and skilled employees who have been trained in the specific skills required for their industry.
The dual education model has been shown to be highly effective in preparing students for the workforce and reducing youth unemployment rates, as well as providing a path to career advancement for young people. There are several benefits to the dual education model.
- First, it provides students with the opportunity to learn both theoretical and practical skills. This is important because it gives students a well-rounded education that prepares them for a variety of jobs.
- Second, the dual education model helps students to develop their soft skills, such as teamwork, communication, and problem-solving. These skills are essential for success in the workforce.
- Third, the dual education model helps students to make informed decisions about their future careers. By working in a company, students can get a sense of what it is like to work in a particular field. This can help them to decide if they want to pursue a career in that field.
Advantages to Students and Businesses
Dual education isn’t just advantageous to students who want to learn a specific trade or skill, it’s also a perfect way to help businesses bridge future staffing gaps while helping talent get a head start on their career trajectories.
- Students get the opportunity to learn on the job and gain real-world experience.
- Students gain more access to networking with professionals in their field.
- Students are more likely to find a job after graduation.
- Students are more likely to be successful in their chosen occupation and have less risk of unemployment.
- Students spend part of their time in school and part of their time working in a company.
- The school and the company work together to develop the student's skills.
- The student is paid a wage while they are working in the company.
- The student graduates with a diploma from the school and a certificate from the company.
Dual Education Is Successful
The dual education model has been shown to be very successful in countries where it is implemented. In Germany, for example, over 60% of young people participate in the dual education system, and unemployment among this group is very low: less than 5%, compared to an unemployment rate of 10% for graduates of traditional academic programs. Additionally, dual education graduates earn, on average, 20% more than their counterparts with traditional academic degrees.
In Switzerland, the dual education system is even more popular, with over 70% of young people participating.
Opportunities for Workforce Solutions Providers
By leveraging and supporting a dual education model, staffing companies can provide clients with highly skilled and job-ready candidates, while also helping to reduce unemployment and the barriers to promoting the development of a skilled workforce. Building formal systems and best practices would require creative thinking, collaboration, and forging partnerships. But here are some suggestions on prospective solutions.
- Partnering with educational institutions: Staffing companies can partner with educational institutions to offer apprenticeships and training programs that are aligned with the skills required by their clients. This will help to ensure that the candidates they provide to their clients have the right skills and are job-ready.
- Developing training programs: Staffing companies can develop their own training programs that combine classroom learning with on-the-job training. This will help to ensure that the candidates they provide to their clients have the skills and experience needed to excel in their roles.
- Providing mentorship and support: Staffing companies can provide mentorship and support to candidates throughout their training and apprenticeships. This will help to ensure that candidates are able to develop the skills and knowledge needed to succeed in their careers.
- Offering talent development programs: Staffing companies can offer talent development programs that provide ongoing training and development opportunities to their candidates. This will help to ensure that candidates are able to stay up-to-date with the latest industry trends and technologies, and continue to grow and advance in their careers.
Incorporating Virtual Education into Staffing
As we detail in our eBook “New Talent Strategies for Our New Normal,” staffing providers and MSPs currently have excellent opportunities to align with Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) programs to enhance ongoing education and development for talent. In many ways, this remains untapped potential that we should be exploring more aggressively.
In a workforce short on skills, we often look to higher education as the currency of performance for this advanced economy. However, the issue of education has become more complex. Today’s talent need to learn practical, applicable skills as transformations in digital technologies and white collar work occur.
Prior to the pandemic, learning was already becoming increasingly virtual, but COVID-19 accelerated this trend. Consider the transformative growth of Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) programs. Educational analysts are recognizing the ability of MOOCs to turn the expensive and somewhat exclusionary privilege of college into a lower-cost, on-demand, and universal experience. Staffing industry experts have also discovered that MOOCs are rising to create new frontiers in sourcing, engaging, and hiring STEM talent with brand-name certifications and degrees.
More organizations are taking MOOC degrees seriously. Current studies indicate that the knowledge acquired from online learning is just as valuable, comprehensive or relevant as from traditional college courses. Some forward-thinking business and staffing leaders are forging partnerships with trade schools that support the skill sets they are desperately seeking. This is an avenue that could benefit staffing providers greatly. In the process, recruiters would Interview talent to determine their ideal work environments, aspirations, interests and aptitudes, then match them to vocational programs that will fulfill those goals—for the workers and the employers who need them. Undertaking these efforts also helps recruiters develop pipelines of candidates for opportunities with other clients.
By capitalizing on the full power of MOOCs, workforce solutions leaders can design internal courses that address the skills their clients seek. Specialized classes for individual businesses deliver a powerful way to entice talent. People looking to work at specific companies will naturally be more inclined to complete courses tailored to those organizations. Those agencies already offering free or low-cost classes using MOOCs are attracting quality candidates and enhancing their skills prior to placement. We’re living in an employment era where the mantra has become “hire for fit, train for skills.” The MOOC model, when combined with staffing curation, epitomizes that philosophy. It increases supply, ensures quality, expedites screening and engagement, and serves as a compelling selling point to hiring managers.
Solving Staffing Shortages: Balancing Skills with Shakespeare
While alternative education models have amazing potential, no amount of schooling can truly prepare workers for the specific situations and responsibilities they’ll need to master over the course of their careers in a given company. That’s why learning and development programs have emerged as critical considerations for business leaders—especially with the younger workforce. If staffing providers are willing to find ways of incorporating these offerings in cooperation with businesses, we may have the chance to pioneer a new approach to staffing fulfillment, retention, performance, and profitability.