Many teens would benefit from educational experiences in which they learn, not only abstractly, but hands-on in various fields.

It’s pretty late in the season, but if you’re still looking for good beach reading this summer, permit me to recommend Yuval Levin’s new book, The Fractured Republic: Renewing America’s Social Contract in the Age of Individualism. True, its subject matter
is more than sober enough to give you away as someone not inclined to romp in the sand barely dressed. But the risk to whatever fun-loving reputation you may have is worth it, as the book is more than path-breaking enough. Writing from the right side of the ideological aisle, Levin, who is the founder and editor of National Affairs, makes points like these about our economy and its demands:

“[T]he United States, as the world’s wealthiest nation, has increasingly specialized in higher-skill work, while countries with lower costs of living and labor have specialized in lower-skill work. Such specialization is good for the global economy, and therefore for the consumers of its products, but it is not so good if you are a low-skilled worker in a nation increasingly specializing in higher-skill work.”

And a short time later: “It is not a coincidence that we repeatedly find education and access to work at the core of the mobility dilemma in America. Our review of the forces shaping the U.S. economy today should lead us to see that education and skills training (which are not the same thing) are absolutely essential to the revival of mobility.”

On-target observations like these should lead us to better appreciate the value of apprenticeship programs, which are much less common in the United States than they are in many other places. Given the dearth, what exactly needs to be said about the potential of apprenticeships and that of millions of young Americans?

One big thing is that too many teenagers and young adults are bored, if not to tears, then to academic indifference. Many of them would benefit from educational experiences in which they learn, not only abstractly, but hands-on in various fields, while simultaneously tak- ing classes and (no small point) earning real money.

Greater use of apprenticeships in which young people acquire critical and satisfying skills would especially help some number who might otherwise wind up in four-year colleges, not because they really want to be there, but because they feel obliged, often going into huge debt in the dispiriting process. Think here of men and women who would prefer to make their livings as artisans or in technical fields in which baccalaureate degrees are not needed.

Then there is the problem of too few “marriageable men;” men without the skills required for the types of jobs which make them attractive marriage partners in the properly discerning eyes of many women. In this instance, think of apprenticeships as underused linking pins connecting more effective learning, with more widely shared prosperity, with stronger families.

Interest is reasonably strong among Minnesota leaders when it comes to expanding what are already significant apprenticeship opportunities. The Minnesota Department of Labor and Industry, for example, says that 110,000 apprentices have been registered in the state over the last nearly 75 years, with about 105 occupations currently training more than 10,500 apprentices.