30 Nov 2017

U.S. Has Potential to Triple Apprenticeships, Researchers from Harvard Business School and Burning Glass Technologies Find

Report Identifies More Occupations Where Apprenticeship Model Could Gain Traction

BOSTON—The number of occupations commonly using apprenticeships could potentially be tripled, and the number of actual apprentices expanded eightfold, according to new research from Harvard Business School’s Project on Managing the Future of Work and labor market analytics firm Burning Glass Technologies.

Widely used in Europe, apprenticeships have bipartisan support among U.S. policymakers as a route to employment outside traditional higher education—and without student debt. But the actual number of apprenticeships in the United States remains small. Only 27 occupations currently leverage apprenticeship models, accounting for roughly 410,000 apprentices, out of more than 23.4 million job openings in 2016, according to federal statistics.

In Room to Grow: Identifying New Frontiers for Apprenticeships, the researchers examined more than 23 million job postings to identify occupations whose characteristics were similar to existing apprenticeships. The characteristics included requiring a narrow set of specialized skills without heavy licensing, having largely stable workforces, and consistently paying a living wage.

The full report can be downloaded here.

Most existing apprenticeships are concentrated in skilled trades, such as carpenters, glaziers, and sheet metal workers. The study identified two kinds of roles where apprenticeships could expand:

    Expander roles: 21 occupations that don’t require a bachelor’s degree, such as shipping clerks, solar photovoltaic installers, and tax preparers.

    Booster roles: These include jobs where employers often request a bachelor’s degree, even though the skills needed don’t require a college education. The 26 occupations the researchers identified include claims adjusters, human resource specialists, computer user support specialists, and database administrators.

Between these expander and booster roles, the study found that the number of occupations commonly using apprenticeships can be expanded from 27 to 74. This study also found:

    Up to 3.3 million job openings could be filled by apprentices;

    Many of these new fields pay more than current apprenticeship occupations, with up to a $20,000 salary premium; and

    Many of these occupations are difficult for employers to fill using current channels.

“There are still significant barriers to expanding apprenticeships in the United States,” said Matthew Sigelman, CEO of Burning Glass Technologies. “But our analysis of job postings demonstrates that there is also real potential to bring the apprentice model to a broader group of workers, providing more opportunities to enter occupations that can support a middle-class family.”

“Expanding the number of apprenticeships available will open pathways to good-paying jobs for more middle-class Americans, as well as help bridge the skills gap by providing a pipeline of skilled workers to firms,” said Joseph B. Fuller, Professor of Management Practice at Harvard Business School and co-chair of the Project on Managing the Future of Work. “Employers would be wise to find ways to expand opportunities for employees to earn while they learn, and policymakers would be wise to encourage their more widespread adoption”


Harvard Business School:
Todd Deutsch

Burning Glass:
Scott Bittle


Burning Glass Technologies delivers job market analytics that empower employers, workers, and educators to make data-driven decisions. The company’s artificial intelligence technology analyzes hundreds of millions of job postings and real-life career transitions to provide insight into labor market patterns. This real-time strategic intelligence offers crucial insights, such as which jobs are most in demand, the specific skills employers need, and the career directions that offer the highest potential for workers. For more information, visit burning-glass.com.


Harvard Business School’s Project on Managing the Future of Work pursues research that business and policy leaders can put into action to navigate the complex, fast-changing nature of work. The Project’s current research areas focus on six forces that are redefining the nature of work in the United States as well as in many other advanced and emerging economies: technology trends like automation and artificial intelligence, contingent workforces and the gig economy, workforce demographics and the “care economy;” the middle-skills gap and worker investments, global talent access and utilization, and spatial tensions between leading urban centers and rural areas.


Founded in 1908 as part of Harvard University, Harvard Business School is located on a 40-acre campus in Boston. Its faculty of more than 200 offers full-time programs leading to the MBA and doctoral degrees, as well as more than 70 open enrollment Executive Education programs and 55 custom programs, and HBX, the School’s digital learning platform. For more than a century, HBS faculty have drawn on their research, their experience in working with organizations worldwide, and their passion for teaching to educate leaders who make a difference in the world, shaping the practice of business and entrepreneurship around the globe.