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Why Apprenticeship? The Next Generation of Talent Needs the Next Generation of Skills

November 13, 2023

At a Glance

Employers are facing an urgent workforce crisis that will continue to deepen over time if not addressed. Job openings in the U.S. increased to 9.6 million in August of 2023; however, there were only 6.4 million unemployed people available to fill those positions. Youth apprenticeships provide one potential path toward filling the talent pipeline with skilled workers of all backgrounds, but more investment and consistency in program development are needed across the country. 

Ginger Allison Director, JFF

Youth apprenticeships are a win-win for both learners and employers. For employers, they address critical workforce needs by offering access to talent. For young adults, these learning opportunities provide access to securing quality jobs. According to the U.S. Department of Labor 

  • 93% of apprentices stay with their employer upon program completion  
  • Apprenticeship completers earn an average salary of $77,000 
  • Apprentices earn $300,000 more on average over the entirety of their careers than their peers 

Despite these benefits, the U.S. Registered Apprenticeship system isn’t built as a career pathway for young people, unlike apprenticeship systems in other parts of the world. This is especially true for young women and people of color. While there has been a recent push to increase the number of high-quality apprenticeships for high school-age youth, the average age of new apprentices in the United States is 29. Of those enrolled in youth apprenticeship programs, only 8% identified as Black and just 7% were women.  

More work needs to be done on the federal level to create an environment that allows for more equitable and diverse recruitment and retention strategies of youth apprentices of all backgrounds.   

Some policymakers are paying attention to this urgent need. The Youth Apprenticeship Advancement Act, introduced by Senators John Hickenlooper and Mike Braun, is a recent example of legislation that aims to expand youth apprenticeships nationwide. The bill would develop a five-year competitive grant program administered by the U.S. Department of Labor to support youth apprentices. Grant recipients would be required to detail their efforts to support the recruitment and retention of nontraditional youth apprenticeship populations, such as women, people of color, individuals with disabilities, individuals from low-income backgrounds, individuals impacted by the criminal and juvenile justice system, and disconnected youth. The bill would bring the field one step closer to other vital program elements, like providing supportive services, such as financial assistance for equipment and tools, mentorship programs, subsidized transportation, and access to other support networks, which is an important factor in boosting apprenticeship recruitment, retention, and completion of all youth populations. 

The bill also takes an important step in developing consistent language around youth apprenticeship that distinguishes between apprenticeship and other work-based learning opportunities. The Act defines a ‘‘youth apprenticeship program’’ as an apprenticeship program registered under the National Apprenticeship Act and designed for youth ages 16 to 22 who are enrolled in or returning to high school at the start of the program. 

A clear, consistent, and nationwide definition of youth apprenticeship is overdue—currently, nearly half of U.S. states have established varying definitions of youth apprenticeship. This lack of uniformity has had a significant impact on the accessibility and quality of opportunities available to young people. It has, at times, led to issues such as ineligibility for support services and industry credentialing upon completion of apprenticeship programs. 

While Jobs for the Future (JFF) applauds the introduction of this act in its drive to improve career opportunities for America’s youth, policymakers must also include provisions for out-of-school youth within any related definition and legislation. According to the Aspen Institute, there are currently five million young people in the United States, ages 16 to 24, who are disconnected from education and the workforce. This population has the talent and potential to fill critical gaps in the workforce, but often require different entry points to high-quality career pathways. All future youth-focused legislation seeking to fill the urgent workforce gap with the next generation of talent must consider the needs of this specific population.   

The expansion of youth apprenticeship across the United States is an important lever to reaching JFF’s North Star: In 10 years, 75 million people facing systemic barriers to advancement will work in quality jobs. As we celebrate the ninth annual National Apprenticeship Week this week, we reflect on the immense progress made in the Registered Apprenticeship system to support our youth, and call on policymakers, practitioners, and employers to continue driving progress in order to make these opportunities accessible to all.