SquashWise invited to testify in Annapolis for a bill to support apprenticeships

SquashWise's Executive Director, Abby Markoe, and Board member, Dr. Bill Durden, submitted invited testimony to the Maryland General Assembly's Ways and Means Committee, in support of a bill to increase apprenticeship opportunities for young adults in Maryland. This aligns with SquashWise's goal to provide its students with a variety of pathways to continue their education after high school. Read on for their testimony:

Testimony by Dr. Bill Durden:

Dear Chairman (Delegate) Kaiser:

I write to support strongly and unconditionally HB 1384 – Task Force to Study Implementing the German Academic-Apprenticeship Model for Adults Without a High School Education sponsored in the 2017 legislative session of the Maryland General Assembly by Delegate Samuel “Sandy” Rosenberg from the 41st Legislative District of Baltimore City.

While at first glance I appear to a person who has enjoyed inevitably the fruits of a distinguished American higher education actually there was no such inevitability. I am a first-generation college student in the strictest definition. Nobody in the direct maternal and paternal lines of my family attended college, much less obtained a degree. Many did not graduate high school.

Having grown up amongst relatives who did not attend college and some of whom did not graduate high school, I witnessed the numerous negative emotional and economic effects upon people not having a credible alternative educational path to a college education—a path that would respond to their distinctive and much-needed technical and vocational skills. My uncle is a case in point. It is most likely that he did not graduate high school and yet I witnessed in him an incredible talent for all things mechanical. However, since he did not have an aptitude for strictly academic work and no other reputable and easily accessible alternative education in mechanical and technical skills was available, he just started to do odd jobs for the county road office—plowing snow, for example—and ended up as a cardboard box line assembly worker without advancement for several decades. He was let go in his 60s just before the date when he would have received retirement benefits. He was given a cooked ham instead!

Throughout my youth I witnessed in my uncle a person defeated and depressed in large part by an educational system and a society that did not take advantage formally and systematically of his vocational talents and rendered him and his talents little to no respect. I attribute his heavy drinking (and death in part to this self-destructive practice) to his professional disappointment and the inability of society to respond systemically to his vocational talent.

My advocacy of a credible alternative to a college education is long standing. Nearly 25 years ago, one of my colleagues at the Johns Hopkins University, Arne Tangerlini, and I argued in a Baltimore SUN op-ed that Maryland—given its seeming enlightened view towards education and the economy—should assume national leadership and “consider [adapting] Germany’s ‘dual system’ of academics and apprenticeships.” And most recently, I revisited that call with another op-ed in the Baltimore SUN (January 2, 2017) entitled, “Creating a credible alternative to college.” I contextualized the argument to the contemporary imperatives issuing from numerous quarters—to include the federal government—calling for “College for All.”

As I assert the need for intensified attention to vocational education, I must acknowledge the critical work that is being done by the CTE movement. Career Technical Education (CTE) “provides students of all ages with the academic and technical skills, knowledge and training necessary to succeed in future careers and to become lifelong learners. In total, about 12.5 million high school and college students are enrolled in CTE across the nation.” I would assert, however, that CTE has not yet been securely embraced and acknowledged by the educational establishment nor has it garnered the absolute respect of the American public for the career-preparatory paths of its graduates. CTE also, by definition, does not focus upon adults who have not graduated high school, much less college as is the intended focus of HB 1348.

Maryland is also beginning to see very positive initiatives by non-profit organizations to introduce apprenticeships as an option for career advancement and for all ages. I cite, for example, TransZed. A statement in my correspondence with its president, Kimberly Neal, provides a concise statement of its ambition. Critical to note is the age of its first participant—a 51-year-old-man.

“In June of last year, I left my career as an attorney to become President of…TranZed Apprenticeship Ventures. Since that time, we have built our apprenticeship model and registered 4 occupations in the IT sector – becoming Maryland’s very first registered non-traditional apprenticeship program. Our goal is to meet the needs of area businesses and job-seekers by offering a viable option to college and a lucrative career path. Our first apprentice began work in December – a 51 year-old career-changer – and we now have about 20 more apprentices (from all age groups and walks of life) beginning employment within the next two months. Businesses large and small are buying into the concept, as we offer a customized approach to combine the on-the-job learning with classroom instruction. Additionally, all of our apprentices are assigned a mentor to work with them throughout the one-year apprenticeship and to help ensure that progress is made.

“I applaud the initiative of organizations like TranZed, but it appears to me that they are valiantly operating in isolation and without the organizing power, advocacy and resources of the state of Maryland and its various agencies to propel them forward as well as linking them to a coherent “system” in our state of schools, community colleges, universities and non-profit and for-profit organizations that would establish a credible, rational and well-acknowledged alternative to a college education.

It is because I think that the German academic-apprenticeship model CANNOT simply be adapted as is to the State of Maryland, that I advocate so strongly for HB 1384. German historical and societal conditions supporting apprenticeships are arguably quite different from those of Maryland and the greater United States. We must thoughtfully and responsibly identify the conditions that have proved important to the flourishing of apprenticeships in Germany and then determine whether such conditions exist in Maryland, and if not, what must be done to establish them or work around them by asserting our own distinctive assets adapted from our American traditions.

It is important to note here these distinctions. Tamar Jacoby in an October 16. 2014 article in Atlantic Monthly entitled “Why Germany Is So Much Better at Training Its Workers,” identifies them concisely. They are:

- Cost: German businesses invest heavily in apprenticeship programs.- Business Mentality: German companies look beyond the short term ROI and focus upon the long term advantages to their respective companies and society in general

- The Centralization of the German Education System: An interesting question for the Task Force proposed in HB 1384 is whether a U.S. state such as Maryland could proximate this German advantage in its apprenticeship system? To what degree could the various technical support and vocational professions, encouraged by the state of Maryland, agree to uniform, high quality statewide training curricula and certification so that graduates had job flexibility over a lifetime and business and the public had assurance of uniform standards of performance by certified graduates? The larger challenge, of course, is for leadership in this area throughout the United States.

- A Pervasive Societal Appreciation of Practical Study and resulting Occupations and a respect for those people who are employed in that study and those jobs -- quite in contrast to the U.S. where practical study and occupation are not universally appreciated.

Again, I support strongly and unconditionally this effort to study the adaptation of the German academic-apprenticeship to adults without a high school degree in selected districts. The time is now as so many of our youth are left without respected educational alternatives that match their practical talents. As a consequence these students in high numbers drop out of education completely. The consequences upon them and the society they inhabit are severe in the form of unemployment, poverty, crime in some cases and mental illness.

Thank you.
William G. Durden, Ph.D.
President Emeritus, Dickinson College
Chief Global Engagement Officer, The International University Alliance/Shorelight Education
Joint Appointment Professor (research), School of Education, Johns Hopkins University

Testimony by Abby Markoe

SquashWise is a support system for aspiring Baltimore youth, combining coaching in the sport of squash with a long-term program of academic support, mentoring, counseling, and preparation for college and career placements after HS graduation. We work with students through middle school, high school, and through age 25 as they transition to college and career placements.We are beginning to explore apprenticeships as an exciting opportunity for our graduates to access continuing education and career stability.

According to the Job Opportunity Task Force, Youth unemployment in Baltimore City is 56% overall (46% among high school graduates), and average income is just under $15,000 among youth aged 19-21. Our city’s youth are significantly under-employed or unemployed. (http://www.jotf.org/Portals/0/Baltimore_City_Youth_Profile.pdf)

We must do so much more to prepare our young people for success. Investing in the apprenticeship model will add an important post-secondary pathway for SquashWise students, and their peers across Maryland.

While SquashWise aims for youth to graduate high school and aspire for continuing education in a variety of forms thereafter, we applaud the focus of this bill to make apprenticeships a viable option for young adults who did not finish high school. Apprenticeship programs provide society with well- trained professionals who can perform much needed services, and they offer young people a chance to become economically stable and positive contributors to our society.

SquashWise is proud of the fact that 90% of our graduates to date have matriculated to college. But in our 9-year history, we realize that the traditional college pathway is not enough for all of our students.

We strongly believe in the power of post-secondary education to increase our students’ chances for stability and life success. Some of our students are ready for college immediately after high school. Others are not. Some are excited by the idea of continuing their education on a college campus. Others are not.

This year, thanks to the visionary leadership of SquashWise board member, Dr. Bill Durden, we are broadening the ways that we prepare our students for success after high school. SquashWise recognizes the power that squash has to create connections for our students that will advance them into higher education and/or careers, depending on students' individual paths.

We are excited that Maryland is emerging as a visionary leader in supporting apprenticeships.

Submitted by,
Abby Markoe
Executive Director

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