The WSJ editorial on apprentices reminded us of last week’s trip to the dentist. We support all manner of on-the-job training (OJT). Formal education is an important part of building human capital but OJT is likely more important. That’s why we were struck by this part of the editorial:
An especially odd objection is that apprenticeship training is a mistake because skills become out of date over time, especially later in one’s work life. But that’s a risk throughout the economy, and all the more reason to get young people skills to enter the job market now and build up savings for the future.
We agree with the first sentence that it is an odd objection but don’t see the second sentence as the answer to why. Our current trip to the dentist compared to the one some years ago will explain why.
Some years ago our dentist had acquired technology that used a camera and what seemed to be CAD/CAM software (yup) to make a crown in-house. It took lots of the dentist’s time but it was pretty cool to get the crown in one sitting. Last week we went and got two crowns at once and the assistant did some of the CAD/CAM work.
Sidebar: We looked at the data on price changes in dental costs and were surprised by the continuing increases. We wonder about the measurement of quality issues. Some years ago we would have had four visits to the dentist to get two crowns and would have spent several weeks wearing those awful temporary crowns. Although the crowns may not have increased in quality the service has. End Sidebar.
The dentist or the CAD/CAM provider has trained the assistant to do some of the work. The technology associated with work changes. OJT is all of your life. Accounting, dentistry, and welding will all change. Some might even go away but if you continue to accumulate human capital you will find opportunities. As the WSJ says in another editorial:
Lowering the cost of goods and services through automation allows capital—financial and human—to attack even harder problems. Wake me up when we run out of problems.
All manner of folks are solving problems. Our dentist was able to save us three trips and a few weeks of discomfort. Now the dental assistant is part of that. Don’t neglect formal education because these things will eventually become part of it but we need to push OJT even more.