Essential Skills: Start Here

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Many businesses can’t find enough people with the skills they need.

Meet Paul. Like many young people, he finished college with no idea of what to do next. For months he drifted from job to job, never feeling that he had found his place. “I was doing one thing for one month and nothing for the next,” he recalled when we spoke. “I felt lost, unsure of where to go next.”

Many young people in our society—too many—find themselves lost, without skills, employment or a plan for their working lives, and every month that they remain unemployed reduces the probability they will ever get onto a normal job track. Many will become unemployable.

Paul might have fallen into this group, but he was lucky. One morning as he awoke, his gaze drifted to something he had taped months earlier to his bedroom wall: a photograph of a 1986 Corvette “Copper Metallic”. Elegant in design, nimble yet powerful, the sight of it that morning flipped a switch in Paul’s young brain. “I knew right away what I had to do.” That day he began an online search for a training program that would allow him to be useful in the automotive industry. That search led him to a local automotive workshop, which accepted him as a beginning apprentice.

Starting from scratch, Paul learned to perform a variety of chores, from simple ones, such as changing spark plugs and engine oil, to more challenging work with instruments and diagnostoics. Months into his apprenticeship, though, Paul is still enthusiastic; the idea of being paid to learn and to contribute is bringing him substantial satisfaction.

Paul’s experience has changed his view of his career. “I somehow got it in my head that being a skilled worker was what high school drop outs do. But since working here, I understand that it’s nothing like that.” Nor is his line of work one with a low, fixed ceiling. If he completes his initial apprenticeship (typically two year proposition) and advances over the years to master mechanic, Paul’s responsibilities will expand and his pay will rise. And, who knows, he may some day advance to the point of managing or owning his own store.

Apprenticeship has opened a window of opportunity for Paul that many of his peers will never experience—to earn, to learn, to grow, and to contribute. It has also benefited his employer. Every successful case like this one creates benefits for a new employee, an employer, and a community.