What was your first paying job? Was it as a teenager? Was it delivering newspapers by bike to driveways, babysitting, a lemonade stand, or similar informal job? What was your next job, and was it more formal,
say an apprenticeship or internship–such as helping out in an office or business establishment? Or a volunteer? How old were you? Were you paid, and if so, were you paid by the hour or by the task?

Why have Americans in particular been pressing college on young people for so long? Might there be a better way to prepare our students for a meaningful life of purpose? Economist Robert Lerman thinks so. He’s been working on the idea of apprenticeships for decades, and EconTalk host Russ Roberts welcomes him in this episode to discuss his work. What’s the question apprenticeships should be answering? And when and why might apprenticeships be a better alternative for some students? What can we learn from other countries’ experiences with apprenticeship programs?

Let’s hear what you have to see about it. Have you or anyone you know benefited from an apprenticeship? Might you have considered it were the kind of program Lerman describes available? Use the prompts below to guide your thinking, and let’s continue the conversation.



1-Why isn’t vocational education a better pathway than apprenticeships, according to Lerman? How does the sort of experience Lerman describes differ from what we think of as vocational education?


2- Roberts asks Lerman what he thinks is stopping the apprenticeship idea from getting more traction here in the United States. Why don’t we see more? What do you think might help the idea of apprenticeships gain greater traction in the US? How might we build up both the supply of and demand for apprenticeship programs?


3- What amendments does Lerman make to Roberts’s story about he sad decline in manufacturing employment in the United States? Whose story about this decline strikes you as more hopeful, and why? (A look back at this past episode with Ed Leamer might be helpful in thinking about this.)


4- What does Lerman mean when he says, “What happens with apprenticeship is that you can watch how people are learning.” How does this compare to what can be seen in a traditional academic setting?


5- Who is most likely to benefit from apprenticeships as Lerman describes them? What does he mean when he insists that “Sameness is not equality?” What are some of the drawbacks of the type of programs Lerman would like to see?