Can Expanding Apprenticeships Reduce Earnings and Social Inequality?
(Employment and Training)
Monday, June 13, 2016: 9:45 AM-11:15 AM
Clement House, 2nd Floor, Room 04 (London School of Economics)
*Names in bold indicate Presenter
Discussants: Lorna Unwin, University of London
Panel Organizers: Robert Lerman, The Urban Institute
Wide differentials in earnings play a central role in economic and social inequality. Gaps in career opportunities and outcomes not only affect income inequality directly, but also can generate indirect effects when low earners become less likely to form and sustain stable, intact families and when low earners turn to income support programs that may weaken labor force attachment. Other dimensions of inequality relate to differences in the social status and job quality of occupations. As Amartya Sen has argued, inequality and poverty are multidimensional, with persistent unemployment having a severely negative impact on the quality of life, even in the context of public benefits that offset income shortfalls. Moreover, underemployment or an inability to take full advantage of one’s capabilities can contribute to social inequalities that extend beyond income inequality.
How societies prepare people for careers can exert dramatic effects on these economic and social dimensions of inequality. Skill development systems can exacerbate inequality by providing less effective education and training to the disadvantaged than to advantaged groups. However, efforts to equalize education by providing the same, academic-only approach to all students can inadvertently create more inequalities if people differ in their learning styles and motivations. Finally, the job distribution is likely responsive to skill development approaches and to the distribution of skills. Where systems produce more highly skilled individuals for advanced manufacturing, jobs in those careers are more likely to materialize.
This session examines the potential role of expanding apprenticeships in reducing economic and social inequality. Apprenticeships can upgrade skills, including occupational skills, but also math and reading skills and employability skills, can prepare workers to gain a valued occupational qualification, can improve youth development by providing a more engaging experience than schooling does and by linking young people to mentors, and can encourage employers to upgrade jobs and develop job ladders. Apprenticeships yield high rates of return to workers and generally enhance occupational status and identity.
The panel deals with both the potential and the feasibility of expanding apprenticeship. One paper analyses the relationship between inequality and the scale of apprenticeship and related work-based training and simulates how a substantial expansion of apprenticeship in the U.S. could reduce inequality. A second paper examines past challenges and current strategies for expanding apprenticeship at the country level, in this case France. The third paper presents a case study of how industry changes in recruitment and training policies, a shift from relying on BAs to offering apprenticeship opportunities to non-graduates, are lowering earnings inequality by lowering demand for high earning, BA graduates and raising demand for non-graduates. The third paper draws on this example to analyze the feasibility of scaling the shift toward apprenticeships in ways that ultimately lowers inequality without sacrificing and possibly enhancing real output.