As employers lament a shortage of skilled workers, families bemoan the cost of higher education, and high schools struggle to prepare students for college and career, one solution is gaining steam: youth apprenticeship.
“So, what are you doing next year?” It’s a common question American high school students face from teachers, neighbors, their friends, and parents. For students today, the most common answer is college, with nearly 70 percent of today’s high school graduates enrolling in higher education after graduation. While high school graduation rates are at historic high, still nearly a third of students do not enroll in postsecondary education after graduation. Of those that do, just over half will graduate with a bachelor’s degree in six years, and their prospects are worse if they start at a two-year college. Among completers, there is no guarantee of a well-paying job to help pay off the over $30,000 debt that today’s college graduates accumulate on average.
As policymakers contemplate new ways to prepare students for college and careers, youth apprenticeship stands out as a compelling option. Apprenticeship is a proven educational model that integrates on-the-job and classroom learning. Apprentices gain valuable work experience, access to professional mentors and networks, and earn postsecondary credit and credentials. From day one of the program, the apprentice is a paid employee, developing valuable skills to add productive value while on the job. To realize these potential benefits for students and employers alike, youth apprenticeship functions as a partnership across industry, high schools, and postsecondary institutions.
Compared to countries like Germany and Switzerland, youth apprenticeship is an underutilized education and workforce strategy in the U.S., but new research from New America’s Center on Education & Skills (CESNA) suggests youth apprenticeship is gaining steam in many states. In a new report, Youth Apprenticeship in America Today: Connecting High School Students to Apprenticeship, produced with support from the Siemens Foundation, Brent Parton summarizes findings from a year-long research effort that included focus groups, polling, a national landscape scan, and interviews with practitioners and national experts.
This report explores opportunities and challenges for growing high-quality youth apprenticeship in the U.S. For the past year, New America’s Center on Education & Skills has been exploring key questions about youth apprenticeship:
• What makes youth apprenticeship an attractive option for improving outcomes for students?
• Are Americans open to connecting more high school students to apprenticeship?
• What do we know about the current landscape of youth apprenticeship programs?
• What can we learn from past efforts to expand youth apprenticeship?
• What e orts are underway today to expand youth apprenticeship?
To answer these questions, we led a multi-pronged research effort that included a review of domestic and international research on youth apprenticeship; focus groups with high school parents, students, and recent graduates; a national landscape scan of current youth apprenticeship activity; and interviews with practitioners and national subject-matter experts. That effort produced the following key findings:
1. Youth apprenticeship is aligned with mainstream thinking about key problems facing American education and industry, including how to smooth transitions between education and the workforce.
2. Americans are open to youth apprenticeship for high school students, but awareness is low and caveats remain related to program quality.
3. Without a single definition for youth apprenticeship, the current national landscape shows a diverse collection of programs nowhere near a coherent system.
4. There are historical reasons for today’s fragmented and limited landscape. Past efforts to expand youth apprenticeship offer important lessons for future ones.
5. States are leading a new wave of efforts to expand youth apprenticeship.