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Interest among U.S. businesses definitely is picking up. Applications for Mr. Obama’s apprenticeship grants, which will be awarded in the fall, have been booming, said Garfield Garner, regional director at the U.S. Department of Labor’s Apprenticeship Office. And a few globally renowned corporations like Caterpillar are experimenting with starting their own apprenticeship programs.

U.S. businesses that have given it a try are usually impressed with the results.

“When you graduate from the apprentice school, you’re going to make more than $50,000 a year, you’re going to have a job, you’re going to understand the culture of your business — and you have no college loans,” said Mike Petters, president of Huntington Ingalls Industries. “I encourage every business leader I talk to if you’re not engaged in the workforce development pipeline through your community colleges, you won’t be happy with the product you get out of it. But if you are engaged in it and think of it as an investment, then the return is really high.”

Mr. Garner said U.S. businesses are increasingly finding that apprenticeships are “absolutely the best kind of training in the world.” Still, the number of apprenticeships in the U.S. would have to increase by sixteenfold to equal Germany’s level of attainment.

As helpful as apprenticeships would be in addressing today’s youth unemployment problem, with the technological sophistication of factory jobs growing by leaps and bounds each year, the Obama administration says apprenticeships will be needed even more in the future to address a shortage of skilled workers. The McKinsey Global Institute has estimated the shortfall could reach 1.6 million by 2020. Other associations estimate that the skills shortage is already in the millions today.

Programs set up by employers themselves are superior to the multitude of job-training programs available through the states and federal government, mainly because there’s a guaranteed job at the end of the training, Mr. Garner said.

More general job training programs can be notoriously ineffective at helping people find jobs once they complete training, but 87 percent of apprentices land jobs after they finish their training, and they earn an average starting salary of $50,000 in the U.S., studies show. Graduates also can earn as much as $300,000 more over their lifetime than their untrained peers.

Moreover, apprenticeships in the U.S., which once were available only in construction trades, today are available in 1,000 different occupations. But because there are relatively few slots, the programs are difficult to get into, Mr. Garner said. Applicants at the VW plant must have a high school degree, possess college-level reading, writing and mathematical skills and pass a VW assessment test and interview to get in.