Employment -- Apprenticeship Making A Comeback In Service Sector

The word "apprentice" is associated in the United States with training by unions in the building trades.

That's still true: 70 percent of the more than 300,000 apprentices registered with the Labor Department's Bureau of Apprenticeship and Training are in construction.

But today the U.S. apprenticeship system is expanding to include service jobs, driven by the fact that by the year 2000, more than 90 percent of new jobs created will be in service industries.

Among formal service apprenticeships registered with the Labor Department are child-care provider, computer programmer, veterinary technician, chef, health-care worker, bank teller, paramedic, audio-video repairer, laboratory technician, commercial designer and customer-service representative.

Another change: Some 100 cities have outreach programs to recruit women and minorities for apprenticeship programs.

"Apprenticeships have gotten a new lease on life," said Anthony Carnevale, chief economist of the American Society for Training and Development in Alexandria, Va. "They're extending beyond white males with calluses on their hands to a variety of people and occupations. We need more highly skilled workers."

The push comes from the government, business and labor, which see apprenticeships as an important training tool throughout U.S. industry.

The current emphasis of the federal Apprenticeship 2000 program is on workers 16 to 25 years old who do not go to college, estimated to be 50 percent of all high school graduates. The program also hopes to attract the 50 percent of college students who never graduate. But the ultimate goal of the $10.5 million program is to encourage employers to introduce apprenticeships. Employers hire the apprentices for their programs.

The new program is referred to as "work-based learning." That means you earn while you learn in a structured program that combines classroom instruction with specific on-the-job training.

Nationally, beginning apprentices generally earn half the wage of someone who has completed an apprenticeship - an economic advantage to the employers. But salaries are bumped up during the training program, which usually ranges from one to five years.

"America faces great challenges, not the least of which is ensuring educational excellence," said Jack MacAllister, chief executive officer of US West Inc., and head of the newly formed National Advisory Commission on Work-Based Learning, a commission of business and labor formed to improve and expand apprenticeships.

James Van Erden, former director of the Bureau of Apprenticeship Training, is in charge of the Labor Department's Office of Work-Based Learning. "There are some 500 active, registered apprenticeship programs today," said Van Erden, who heads a staff of 245 people in 131 offices. "What we're looking at is how to better link theoretical instruction with the practical, as is done in most European countries and Japan."

Van Erden's department has helped implement programs for upgrading skills of machinists and mechanics at The Boeing Co. and of tellers for the American Banking Association.

Among other programs under way:

-- The Los Angeles Unified School District will train 1,500 students in a joint effort with Pacific Bell telecommunications, Security Pacific Bank Corp. and the City of Los Angeles.

-- The Boston Private Industry Council is creating "formal pathways" for 300 to 500 students to enter professional careers in health care.

-- The National Alliance of Business and the Du Page County (Ill.) School-to-Work Transition project will train students from 22 high schools as appliance technicians for Sears, Roebuck & Co.

Apprenticeships also serve employers' needs. "The benefit is that when our apprentices finish their 36-month chef training, they are well-versed in most areas of the kitchen, and we can assign them anywhere," said Ann Hruby, employment manager of the Westin Hotel.

Starting apprentice pay at the Westin is $6.22 an hour; by the end of the program, it's $7.50 an hour. Graduates get full union scale.

Jan Leider graduated from the hotel's chef program last August, got her certificate and now is a "troubleshooter," working where needed for the hotel's restaurants and banquets.

"I wanted to go to the Culinary Institute in New York, but that costs $20,000 a year, not including room and board," said Leider, a graduate of the University of Kansas in Lawrence. "I worked as a waitress and tried to get a job as a chef, but without training it's not easy - and it's still hard if you're a woman."

In 1987, Westin's chef, Johann Lustenberger, accepted Leider into the program. She took a pay cut to enter it.

"I worked 800 hours in sauces, 700 in pastry, 300 in meat and 700 in cold foods and fancy art work," she said. "I took courses at the hotel and was certified in sanitation at Chicago Citywide College. It wasn't only theoretical, it's the real thing. And I'm much better prepared."