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March 1997, Vol. 120, No. 3
Robert J. Gitter and Markus Scheuer
Unemployment among young people is a serious problem facing the United States today. The labor market difficulties of youths cause the members of this cohort economic hardship now, as well as hinder their future economic success. Moreover, the difficulties youths face impinge on the Nation as a whole: a well-trained work force is vital to the U.S. ability to compete in the international market as a high-productivity, high-wage country. Youths who gain work experience and receive on-the-job training will reduce both the chances of future labor bottlenecks and the burden that might be imposed on others to pay for their support.
It can be argued that U.S. youth unemployment results from inadequate labor market preparation in schools, as well as an especially difficult school-to-work transition for young Americans. The comprehensive German apprenticeship system is often seen as a model for an improved school-to-work transition. As James J. Heckman, Rebecca L. Roselius, and Jeffrey A. Smith state:1
A new consensus has emerged in influential policy circles that the American labor market and educational system are unable to equip workers with sufficient skills. American youth are said to experience a disorderly transition from school to work characterized by too much job turnover and too little training on the job. In contrast, the German apprenticeship system has been held up as a model of order that produces smooth school to work transitions and provides workers with human capital directly related to their career interests in a format especially helpful for workers poorly served by formal school.
This article explores the school-to-work transition and youth unemployment in the two nations2 and the lessons the United States might learn from Germany, but with an important cautionary note about the limited potential for transferring the German model. We begin with a discussion of some of the differences in the unemployment rates of various demographic and educational groups within the youth population of both countries. We then explore the reasons behind the lower German youth unemployment rates in terms of the vocational preparation of the two school systems and discuss the potential for transferring parts of the German model to the United States. We show that the key to Germany's success is the country's social consensus on the importance of work force training for youths. Whether Germany's methods could be successfully transferred is a direct function of another nation's likelihood of adopting such a social consensus.
This excerpt is from an article published in the March 1997 issue of the Monthly Labor Review. The full text of the article is available in Adobe Acrobat's Portable Document Format (PDF). See How to view a PDF file for more information.
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1 James J. Heckman, Rebecca L. Roselius, and Jeffrey A. Smith, U.S. Education and Training Policy: A Re-evaluation of the Underlying Assumptions behind the "New Consensus," Working Paper #CPSE 94-1 (Chicago, Center for Social Program Evaluation, University of Chicago, 1993).
2 Unless otherwise indicated, all references to Germany are to unified Germany.
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