Perspective: Alternative Path to Upward Mobility Through Apprenticeship

Upward mobility is the ability to better ones life through work and investments. A liberal economy strives to give everyone equal opportunity for upward mobility; but in reality, those who are less fortunate are at a distinct disadvantage since conditions are less favorable for them in order to move up the socioeconomic strata. This is one of the reasons why poverty is still prevalent and will continue to be prevalent in all countries implementing different economic models.

For the past half century or so, the main path towards upward mobility is through formal tertiary education. It is hard pressed for anyone to find a stable career without a college diploma, even those who graduate from the big universities have no assurance of a stable and progressive career after they graduate. What more for those who cannot afford to go through tertiary education because of poverty? This is why poverty persists and even multiplies over time. Trickle down economics has failed (largely due to greed) and has created a trap for those below the poverty line which is near impossible to escape save for those one in a million success stories which brings hope for a better life.

It is thus important to create an escape mechanism for those trapped in poverty and without any means to finish tertiary education. This was partially addressed by government programs via TESDA and this was the inspiration for this idea to provide opportunity for those needing it while developing skills and teaching tradition. I have been working on the idea of creating an apprenticeship program for those who are able to complete their secondary education. I believe it is the ripe time as the K12 program should have already tackled basic common subjects which would serve as basic education to form the support for further skills development.

An Alternative Education and Career

This is an alternative to the tertiary education system which we are all accustomed to. I got inspiration from the stories of shoemakers such as Keith Poh and Yohei Fukuda  who took their passion for shoe making and pursued it to become the successes that they are today. But this alternative model is not about personal glory, this is about reviving a craft to develop the industry while giving opportunity to those who might be led astray due to poverty. There is a wealth of talent in the Filipino youth, we just need to focus it into proper channels for it to bloom and prosper. Craft skills do not require extensive textbook education but rather are developed through practice and experience. This also allows the apprentice to grow and develop his/her own personality and method while being tempered by a master. Unlike textbook education, apprenticeship fully matures when the student has fully absorbed the techniques and methods passed down by his master while adding his own thus developing the craft even further to the benefit of the next generation who will be trained to inherit the craft.

Chances for upward mobility is better in highly skilled craft work such as shoe making, custom tailoring, specialized carpentry, and other traditional craft which has been overshadowed by mass consumerism. This apprenticeship program can also become the foundation for future entrepreneurial endeavors which will increase the probability of upward mobility since craftsmen with enough business sense can start their own business by offering their skills to the public. The chances for improving the quality of life as well as opportunities offered are also high even if the apprentice chooses to take the career path.

This is why it is important to bring dignity to the craft and start professionalizing skilled craft such as shoe making.  This is in order to entice the younger generation to actually learn it and grow these industries once more. For example, a master shoemaker on the career path can earn as much as a bank manager while veteran shoemakers earn salaries akin to call center agents. The salary structure would of course be different for each workshop but having a standard salary accompanied by compliance to basic output standards can greatly raise the quality of products as well as the quality of life for the craftsmen.

Apprenticeship System

The apprenticeship program that I am envisioning will take roughly 4 years to complete. Under this program, the student should have completed secondary education before being considered as a viable candidate. This is so that the basic communication and cognitive skills are present since there is still minimal textbook education required to proceed with the program. The apprenticeship program will be a mix of textbook and experiential education on the first 2 years covering all aspects of the craft then specialization in the last 2 years so that the apprentice can hone their skills on their chosen specialization. I believe that all aspects of the craft should be covered in order to produce fully functional craftsmen with the understanding of the whole in order to make better parts for that whole. The division of labor, while efficient for production, is limiting for education and thus something that the program will avoid for the apprentice until their specialization.

For the first 2 years, the apprentice shall become an assistant/runner for the veterans. This is to develop their respect for the hierarchy within the workshop as well as give them a closer look at how the veterans practice their respective tasks. Watching and imitating the veterans will serve as a good exercise for apprentices. Through this, new methods can be discovered as there is no one absolute way to do a task. Some new method might make it efficient while some more beautiful; it all boils down to  what the priorities are but the pursuit for furthering the craft should never stop.

The last 2 years will be focused on honing the skills and specializing in certain tasks. Once the foundation has been laid out from the assistant/student years, they will be promoted to apprentices who are technically OJT for the workshop. Here, they can specialize in pattern making, lasting, finishing, and other tasks. This is also where we can see who can further develop their skills to become managers/foremen and who will stay as career craftsmen.

The apprenticeship should not cost the student anything. For the first 2 years, the student learns and pays for nothing but will be required to become assistants to the veterans. This technically pays for their education and experience in the workshop. During the apprentice phase though, they will be given an allowance which will allow them to continue learning while developing their skills and at the same time, be compensated for their output.

Government Support

For this program to succeed, government should work hand-in-hand with workshop owners in developing the curriculum and compensation for the first 2 years where the students will pay for nothing. Like any educational institution, this has to be regulated by government in order to ensure that standards are met and no abuses will be committed. Workshops wanting to take in apprentices should go through certification so that we can move out respective industries forward, professionalizing them and giving dignity back to our craftspeople while creating upward mobility opportunities for those who are less fortunate to escape the poverty trap is and will continue to be a problem of society unless private individuals start working with government to create meaningful programs with impact and not just some feel-good surface effort which hardly creates a dent on the real issues.

In ending, this alternative path is something that we should consider in developing since not everybody has access to tertiary education. Not all persons are also equal in terms of cognitive capacity which is why career mismatches happen. While one person might be weak in math, that same person might excel in writing and composition. Craft skills can be trained and some can excel to become masters thus greatly improving their value as leaders in their fields of expertise. Poverty has robbed this generation and future generations of security and if we continue on this path, the unequal environment will continue to widen the gap between the poor and middle class, then middle class and the rich. In creating alternatives for education and a different career path, we can at least try to impact the current system and give better opportunities to those who might have drowned in their situation if an alternative was not present. Skills development training, along with proper experience and mentoring can save not only heritage crafts and industries but lives of the youth as well as future generations.


4 thoughts on “Perspective: Alternative Path to Upward Mobility Through Apprenticeship

  1. Fantastic concept, reminds me of how the old cordwainers’ guilds in England operated. This would be great to see in action at towns that make footwear, such as Marikina and that town in Laguna which makes slippers (alpombra).

    In time, this can even extend beyond shoemaking-


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