Opinion: Business and Education Must Work Better Together


The apprenticeship model is making a comeback.

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As chair of the Workforce and Talent Development Board for the state of Oregon, I understand the importance of improved alignment between the workforce needs of our business community and the talent development that our education and training system provides. In the midst of this record-setting economic growth period, businesses are frustrated with the tight labor market and the level of skills of workers.

Workforce development needs are top of mind. Whether it is during good economic times or recession, the business community invariably turns to the education system with a sense of blame, hope and interest. Many of us believe that it is through this system that workforce needs will somehow be magically fixed.

In reality, it is business that must provide solid leadership about what specific skill sets in workers are needed for mutual success. To meet these needs, a strong and responsive education and training system is critical. Investments of time and money are needed on both sides of the equation.


In the public sector, national, state and local workforce entities are regularly discussing the skills gap and how we can solve the problem for current and future generations. 

Just recently, the U.S. Department of Labor announced major milestones in the continuing effort to expand apprenticeships in the U.S. The department announced awards totaling $183.8 million to support the development and expansion of apprenticeships for educational institutions partnering with companies that provide a funding match component.

The department will also make available an additional $100 million for efforts to expand apprenticeships to help close the skills gap. Training through registered apprenticeships is a proven way to improve work skills to meet industry standards. 

We not only need to skill up our workforce, but we need to work on building a pipeline for our youth to transition directly from school into registered training programs. 

Registered youth apprenticeships are building momentum across the country with several successful programs. Expanding youth apprenticeship is a strategy for building a more inclusive economy by connecting the learning needs of students with the talent needs of industry.

One notable youth apprenticeship program in South Carolina uses the Partnership to Advance Youth Apprenticeship model. The initiative is a multi-year, collaborative program that supports the efforts in states and cities to expand access to high-quality apprenticeship opportunities for high-school age youth.

The model enrolls high school juniors into a registered program that pairs education with real on-the-job work experience and training. Students attend school while also working for a local employer throughout their high school years and then they transition to community college after high school graduation. Upon completion of this program, students receive a high school diploma, an associate’s degree and four years of paid work experience. 

Locally, several school districts have expressed interest in introducing apprenticeship-type programs, but the Hillsboro School District is leading the charge in adapting the youth apprenticeship model and bringing registered youth apprenticeship to their students.

The district has partnered with industry partners and Madden Industrial Craftsmen as an intermediary to bring this program to life. By connecting the learning needs of students with the talent needs of industry, youth apprenticeship is a strategy for building a more inclusive economy by creating affordable, reliable and equitable pathways from high school to good jobs and college degrees.

Another area of opportunity is the growth of artificial intelligence (AI). AI will cause both job loss and job growth. AI could create a potential net gain of almost 60 million new jobs across the country in the next several years.

Oregon needs to be prepared sooner rather than later for these changes through improved talent development that develops the skills of our citizens and the quality of the work they are capable of doing.

To accomplish this work, it is important to facilitate partnerships between employers, educators and training providers so that programs keep pace with accelerating technological development and rapidly changing talent development needs.

The Workforce and Talent Development Board is working with NVIDIA, a leader in artificial intelligence, to assist our state in developing educational and training programs for the near future.

Oregon’s future is upon us. The business and education system must work better together to prepare our workforce for the rapidly changing needs of our employers and the talent marketplace.

Through continued business engagement by the workforce development system, including high schools, community colleges and universities, quality change will unfold and help to ensure our future economic success.

With strong, visionary leadership from the business community that guides this engagement, the intersection of where business meets education will provide transformational opportunities for meaningful policy change.

Ken Madden is the owner of staffing firm Madden Industrial Craftsmen.