President Obama
President Obama pledged $500m per year for four years in his 2015 budget, according to Lerman (Reuters)

Consecutive US governments have failed to promote apprenticeships across the world's largest economy because "policy elites have a narrow view of what skills are", according to a respected US labour specialist.

Professor Robert Lerman, an institute fellow at think tank the Urban Institute, told IBTimes UK that he wants to scale up the work-based learning route in four states across the US.

Lerman, speaking at a parliamentary reception on 'world class' apprenticeships hosted by City & Guilds and Insso, said he has not selected the locations yet, but he hopes that the move would jumpstart the work route in the US.

The US Department of Labour estimated that there are 440,000 apprentices participating in 37,000 programmes across the country in any given year.

But the UK, despite its much smaller size when compared with the US, had almost double the amount of apprentices in 2012/13 as 858,900 people worked in vocational positions.

In fact, apprentices only account for 0.2% of the US' total workforce, a lot less than the UK (2.7%).

"If we had the same share of apprenticeships as Canada, Australia and England, we would have four million apprentices," Lerman said.

"We have been too focused on pure construction apprenticeships. They are good apprenticeships, but it's too narrow a range for an economy of our size. We need more than one route to career success," Lerman added.

President Barack Obama pledged $500m (£311m, €390m) per year for four years in his 2015 budget, according to Lerman, but the professor argued that the move may not be enough.

Lerman wants to boost the system by, among other things, extending the use of current postsecondary and training subsidies to apprenticeships.

But what, according to the professor, has been holding US policy makers back?

"The policy elites of the US have a narrow view of what skills are," Lerman said.

"They see skills almost entirely through academic achievement, how many years of school you have completed and how you do on academic tests.

"They are not really understanding that skills embody critical occupational skills and employability skills that involve teamwork and problem solving – soft skills – that apprenticeships can deliver."

The academic proposed that the wider adoption of apprenticeships across the US can help tackle youth unemployment – the most recent jobless rate for young people was 13%.

"[The policy makers] are not understanding that apprenticeships are a way of motivating young people," Lerman said.

"When some young people are in a pure academic setting and they don't see the relevance of what they are learning, you may have a lot of young people who tune out."