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What is Youth Apprenticeship?
Apprenticeship is a workforce training model that combines paid on-the-job learning and formal classroom or online instruction to help a worker master the knowledge, skills, and competencies needed for career success. Registered Apprenticeship (RA) programs take the basic apprenticeship model of paid on-the-job training and educational instruction and provide additional rigor, standards, and quality.
A Youth Apprenticeship (YA) program is an apprenticeship specifically designed for and serving youth—whether in or out of school—between the ages of 16 and 24. It provides opportunities for students to experience and gain skills in a real work environment and gives businesses a chance to inspire and develop a new generation of talent.
Unlike an internship, which is often a short-term opportunity to learn more broadly about a field, a youth apprenticeship is an industry-driven education and career training program based on recognized industry standards. Youth apprenticeships are also paid, and classroom training is connected to the apprenticeship’s on-the-job training.
Youth apprenticeship is not simply a job; it is a postsecondary strategy intended to teach a wide range of industry-specific knowledge and skills and help young people earn valuable credentials they can use to advance into successful careers. Additionally, youth apprenticeships can serve as a pipeline of skilled young workers that can help meet employer needs for new, diverse, and young talent.
The primary differences between YA and standard RA are how youth are recruited and supported throughout the program in terms of their schedules and, in some cases, the tasks they can do on the job.
Youth Apprenticeship Today
Recent analysis from JFF has shown a 113 percent increase in the number of 16-to-24-year-olds joining a Registered Apprenticeship program from 2010-2020. More than 40,000 young people joined a program in 2020.
Source: Registered Apprenticeship Partners Information Database System, U.S. Department of Labor.
While the analysis reviews all Registered Apprenticeship programs with 16-to-24-year-old participants and is not specific to youth apprenticeship programs (those explicitly designed for youth), it paints an important picture of the state of apprenticeship for young people.
There are several bright spots: the number of young people between ages 16 and 24 participating in apprenticeship grew dramatically during this time and at a much higher rate than overall youth employment. Moreover, the average exit wage of $30 per hour for young people completing apprenticeships is much higher than the median wages among all young people, attesting to the power of work-based learning to move people into well-paid jobs. And while STEM apprenticeships still represent a small proportion of apprenticeship programs, they did show substantial growth over the decade, reflecting an emerging national focus on building alternative youth pathways into careers in science, technology, engineering, and math.
Despite these gains, apprentices of color and women apprentices of all backgrounds are behind in both representation and opportunity. The percentages of women and Black apprentices have not budged significantly between 2010 and 2020, despite the dramatic overall growth in this earn-while-you-learn model. And the occupational segregation seen most dramatically when comparing male and female apprentices (and, to a lesser degree, when comparing Black apprentices to white apprentices) has resulted in significant differences in earnings and limits on advancement opportunities.
To support programs in implementing practices that support diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility (DEIA), JFF has created a program design framework for employers and Registered Apprenticeship sponsors. This program has field-informed program design elements and considerations for building systems, processes, partnerships, and practices that can drive DEIA in their programs, providing access and support to youth apprentices of all backgrounds.
What Youth Apprenticeship Looks Like
The Charleston Regional Youth Apprenticeship (CRYA) is a two-year program that was initially driven by employer demand. In 2014, Trident Technical College was approached by an employer who was interested in youth apprenticeship. The Community College worked with the employer to bring others together as a sector partnership to develop a youth apprenticeship in industrial mechanics, to ensure sustainability of the program over time. This ambitious group of employers pushed for a program start in four months and hired 13 initial apprentices. This challenge from employers has grown to 18 pathways in nine industry sectors, with 180 registered companies. Through 2020, the program has had 351 youth apprentices, with approximately 70 new hires for the 2021-22 school year as of August 2021. There were 119 apprentices for the 2019-20 school year.
Under the youth apprenticeship model, rising juniors, rising seniors, and graduating seniors are eligible to participate. Students work through a rigorous application process in the year preceding the apprenticeship. Under the “learn and earn” model, students must be hired by one of the participating employers, which make all hiring decisions. Students commit to two years in this program; however, because it is a competency-based Registered Apprenticeship Program, there is flexibility: apprentices who excel can complete the program sooner, and others may take additional time.
Managing the Program
CRYA ensures that program design is driven by employer needs and demand and is organized by the intermediary. That intermediary, Trident Technical College’s Community Partnerships, which includes both the Division of Apprenticeship and Employer Partnerships and the Division of School and Community Initiatives, helps employers figure out exactly what they need and want. It offers ongoing support to employers through consultation; supports the design and implementation of necessary program paperwork, including the development of an MOU; and works with the college to shift or change the curriculum to meet employer needs.
Trident Technical College works with local employers to identify their hiring needs. It begins by working within the college to align curricula to meet those needs. Once employers are committed, the Division of School and Community Initiatives begins secondary school engagement. Student- and parent-facing marketing materials are created that highlight new and existing opportunities and company partners. Informational sessions are delivered in both English and Spanish when possible. School counselors are involved in the process, through specific outreach efforts and counselor days on Trident’s campus. Where feasible, secondary CTE and core academic courses are leveraged as part of the course pathway. Where specific courses are not offered in high school, Trident Technical College provides the related technical instruction.
CRYA does not ask employers to cover the costs of tuition. Employers do, however, pay the wages of mentors and apprentices. As an intermediary, CRYA does not ask any program partners to cover its staff members’ salaries but has sought support from local and national funders.
CRYA in Action
The following graphic shows a representation of the type of journey CRYA students may experience and the foundations and supports they receive along the way.
Getting Started with an In-School Youth Apprenticeship
Youth apprenticeships are surrounded by an ecosystem that includes employers, local school districts, high schools, providers of postsecondary education (usually a community college), and an organization or set of organizations (i.e., an intermediary) that coordinates activities and interfaces with all partners.
High schools create the enabling environment for students to participate in youth apprenticeships. They must give formal permission, in partnership with parents, for students to participate in any postsecondary instruction or on-the-job learning during regular school hours. They play a role in providing coursework as part of related technical instruction and recruiting and preparing students for youth apprenticeship programs, all while helping students meet graduation requirements.
Postsecondary institutions deliver related instruction that complements what apprentices learn on the job while ensuring that their training isn’t too narrow for a single employer. The postsecondary partner can customize learning enough to meet the needs of the industry while ensuring that learning is adaptable in the broader labor market and can be built on over time.
Employers work with education partners to identify skill requirements, build training plans, and deliver on-the-job training. Youth apprenticeship differs from other work-based learning experiences or career and technical education (CTE) programs of study in that the employer plays two roles: it offers a paid work experience through a hiring contract that employs a young person in its hospital, machine floor, or lab; and it is directly responsible for helping to define, deliver, and document the learning that takes place. Through these activities, employers anchor youth apprenticeship programs.
The intermediary coordinates the activity of key partners to support employers and the success of apprentices. They are often considered the “glue” that holds the partnership together. Intermediaries must be prepared to address the needs of multiple constituencies. They can be housed in one or multiple organizations, such as chambers of commerce, community colleges, nonprofit organizations, and school districts. Intermediaries are the backbone organizations that are indispensable for helping to set up and run programs.
Access Resources and Information at JFF's Virtual Community of Practice
Assess Your Readiness
JFF’s Self-Assessment and Planning Tool for Youth Apprenticeship Programs can be used by local, state, or regional lead entities and their partners to gauge their current capacity to establish a high-quality system for youth apprenticeships. This tool is designed to address critical foundational issues such as leadership, partnership, and program supports—as they relate to a program's unique context and design—to ensure states and local areas are well prepared to move forward with a high-quality and well-planned approach.
JFF can provide support and 1:1 coaching on:
- Program development and implementation
- Partnership / stakeholder engagement, program development and implementation
- Registration support
- Policy analysis and recommendations
- And more!
Scheduling Work Experiences
In-school youth prioritize graduating from high school or earning a GED, which takes precedence over working hours. As such, they do not have the DOL required 2000 hours per year to work on the job. One way to meet the requirements of a Registered Apprenticeship and still participate in YA is to design a competency-based program. Apprenticeship programs are generally designed in one of three ways:
- Time-based, meaning the apprentice will require an established number of hours in the classroom and on the job to gain full proficiency in all the work processes.
- Competency-based (CB), meaning the requirements for classroom hours and job training on the work process are assessed by behaviors and skills and not time in the classroom or on the job.
- Hybrid is a blend of the two above designs. A hybrid apprenticeship can measure learning in the classroom by the number of hours in the curriculum, and the competencies gained on the job without measuring the number of hours worked.
Regardless of which design the apprenticeship sponsor and partners choose, there should be adequate and rigorous training and assessment of learning so that at the end of the apprenticeship, the DOL can certify the apprentice completing the program is fully qualified for their occupation.
Commonly, youth apprenticeship sponsors have encountered challenges in youth being able to safely and efficiently get to and from work, whether from school or home. Often, youth do not own cars, and public transportation services may not align schedules or stops convenient for youth to travel from school to the job site and from the job site to home. Several states also limit young drivers from transporting other youth in a car until they are aged 18 or 21, which does not allow them to carpool with one another. This challenge has been addressed in a variety of ways with the most successful models rooted in employer support.
Child Labor Laws / Liability
Child labor laws are often cited as reasons for employers not to participate in Youth Apprenticeship. However, these are limited to hazardous occupational activities with several exemptions. Employers may not be aware of the federal exemptions that would allow youth to learn the skills and practices in several occupations, predominantly working with heavy equipment. Employers are encouraged to investigate the laws regarding youth working on-site in their states before limiting themselves to hiring talent over a certain age.
Rural communities can face deeper challenges in developing youth apprenticeships and should take time to design and implement their programs to address these issues. JFF’s partner, Urban Institute, developed this report outlining strategies rural communities face with strategies for designing workable solutions.