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Apprenticeship & Work-Based Learning for Opportunity Youth

While there is a comprehensive apprenticeship system for adults and a growing movement to expand access to apprenticeship for high school and college students, young people who are disconnected from the education and workforce systems or who lack the credentials and skills necessary to access postsecondary pathways are often unable to take advantage of this valuable training opportunity.

Apprenticeship programs, and work-based learning in general, can be important elements of any effort to ensure that opportunity youth—young people ages 16-24 who are underconnected with, or disconnected from, the education and workforce systems—can access meaningful career and education pathways.

As of January 2020 there were 4.9 million opportunity youth in the United States, and emerging data indicates that that number has increased drastically in the economic downturn sparked by COVID-19. Getting opportunity youth involved in apprenticeships can go a long way toward ensuring that they will not be left behind. Moreover, with employer demand for highly skilled workers on the rise as older workers retire and the number of new technologies grows, providing opportunity youth with the training they need to learn in-demand skills will fill a critical gap in the labor market.

Career Connections

Apprenticeship provides an effective and supportive learning environment that includes hands-on training, classroom learning, and real-world connections to employers. That combination can help opportunity youth develop both the technical skills and the employability skills they need to enter into and advance within a range of industries.

For some opportunity youth, pre-apprenticeship programs can be especially valuable because they provide wraparound services and supports in addition to work-based learning activities. The work-based learning component of pre-apprenticeships can help opportunity youth explore career and education pathways within an industry, and help them connect the skills and competencies they acquire to occupations and full apprenticeship opportunities that align with their long-term goals. Work-based learning experiences also help them increase their social capital by building professional networks through which they can make connections to additional job and apprenticeship opportunities.

A Supportive Approach

Some youth who are not in school and not employed may need preparation and support to succeed in the first stage of the apprenticeship continuum. This is particularly important for Registered Apprenticeships, because entrance qualifications and standards are high and typically require a high school diploma as well as high basic skills.

In addition, the journey from pre-apprenticeship through apprenticeship is long and requires persistence. Young adults—in particular, those who are not in school or employed—can have personal needs that can interfere with retention and completion, such as child care, transportation, stable housing, emotional safety, and physical well-being. Providing access to wrap-around supports, such as living stipends, childcare, or housing, transit, and food subsidies can remove very real barriers and help opportunity youth to meet and balance training requirements with the complex and challenging demands they may face outside the program.

When delivering a pre-apprenticeship, apprenticeship, or work-based learning activity to opportunity youth, it is also important to structure the delivery of training and classroom learning in a way that meets each learner where they are so that they can access and digest information and demonstrate what they are learning in the ways that make the most sense for their unique learning styles. This can increase their skills gains and strengthen their understanding of how what they are learning transfers to different occupations across learning.

Visit JFF's Center for Apprenticeship & Work-Based Learning
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Resources for Opportunity Youth WBL


JFF's Framework for a High-Quality Pre-Apprenticeship Program: Opportunity Youth

This pre-apprenticeship framework outlines strategies and promising practices for developing high-quality programs that serve opportunity youth participants. Acknowledgments We would like to thank the U.S. Department of Labor for providing the funding to support this…

May 10, 2021

Promising Approaches for Connecting Opportunity Youth to Registered Apprenticeships

Learn promising practices in building and growing successful apprenticeship programs for opportunity youth. Learn promising practices in building and growing successful apprenticeship programs for opportunity youth. The number of opportunity youth—young people ages 16 to…

December 7, 2021

Young Adults in Registered Apprenticeship

Young adults are invaluable members of our labor market and bring critical talent, capacity, skill, and innovation to the workforce. However, many young adults—especially those ages 16-24 from low-income communities—face significantbarriers in the labor market.…

August 23, 2022

Youth Apprenticeship: A Vision for the Future, A Plan for Today

Learn more about the promise of apprenticeship for in-school and out-of-school youth. Learn more about the promise of apprenticeship for in-school and out-of-school youth. Visit JFF's Center for Apprenticeship & Work-Based Learning Panels Introduction &…

November 16, 2021

How Apprenticeship Programs for Opportunity Youth Stay Resilient Through the COVID-19 Recession

This report looks at strategies for sustaining and expanding Registered Apprenticeship pathways for opportunity youth during the COVID-19 pandemic. The authors highlight promising practices from workforce boards and community-based organizations, and address topics including the…

October 13, 2020

Connecting Apprenticeships to the Young People Who Need Them Most: The Role of Community-Based Organizations

CBOs can play an essential role in connecting young adults to sustainable employment through apprenticeship programs. Nearly 40 percent of America’s 18- to 24-year-olds are not in school and do not have a college degree,…

March 5, 2019

Making Apprenticeship Work for Opportunity Youth

Making Apprenticeship Work for Opportunity Youth Young people who are out of school and unemployed need substantial preparation and supports in order to get and keep a job. Pre-apprenticeships, as well as similar work-based learning…

May 7, 2018