But the education system is not powerless in the face of high unemployment—as long as employers are partners. What’s clear is that there are a few, relatively small sectors of the economy in which there are real shortages of trained workers. Some of those sectors require an advanced degree or very high-level skills, such as in engineering or computer programming. But not all of them do. One of these sectors is mid-skill manufacturing. There is a shortage of machinists who can operate the new, computer-programmed, robotic assembly lines that build cars, turbines, generators, steel and iron plumbing products, armaments, and shipping and packing equipment. There may be as many as 600,000 unfilled manufacturing jobs of this type, but compared with their European counterparts, American companies have shown little willingness to invest in training workers to fill these positions.
At last a small group of employers are importing the Northern European apprenticeship model to the United States. These programs combine classroom learning, typically at community colleges, with paid worksite training, and guarantee successful graduates a job.