The Covid-19 pandemic altered public confidence in education and left lasting shortages in the workforce. Youth unemployment rates are recovering, but young people are still in need of job opportunities that will create lasting wealth and opportunities for further education. Youth apprenticeships, defined in the report as “a structured work-based learning program that connects the educational needs of students with the talent needs of industry,” sit at the intersection of secondary education, higher education, and the workforce. As such, they can enhance all three sectors and leave a lasting impact on youth.
A new report by the Partnership to Advance Youth Apprenticeship (PAYA) provides a playbook with eight definitive actions for state leaders and policymakers to take to advance their work-based learning programs. (My colleague Jessica Poiner also recently reviewed this with an eye towards policymakers in Ohio, Fordham’s home state.) Written in collaboration with the National Governors Association’s Center for Best Practices (NGA Center) and New America, the report identifies prominent barriers to youth apprenticeship program development at the state level. It then uses New America’s 2017 research into the youth apprenticeship landscape to develop the actions necessary for governors, state leaders, and policymakers to develop “career-oriented, equitable, portable, adaptable, and accountable” apprenticeship programs.
It begins with two big goals for governors: establish a statewide vision with shared definitions for youth apprenticeships and build a statewide governance structure. A statewide vision with shared definitions creates uniformity and solidifies program expectations. It also helps to embed apprenticeships within the state’s goals. Governors should use this uniformity to establish statewide governance structures. Although other state leaders will play a role, governors are the prime movers, and they must decide which agencies oversee the program to reduce overlap or misalignment of resources.
The report then identifies a few actions that are specific to apprenticeship programs. The first is championing youth apprenticeships and work-based learning. This also requires leadership from the governor, this time to attract stakeholders, employers, and participants. State leadership is advised to market work-based learning to the public and explain its potential to create economic development and social and economic mobility.
The second action is encouraging schools to create a career-readiness continuum that promotes apprenticeship opportunities to students who might benefit from work-based learning. Schools should also reduce barriers to entry by recognizing work-based learning credits and altering certain graduation credits, such as in-classroom attendance, to accommodate students who wish to enroll in apprenticeship programs.
The final action that targets program implementation is the use of data to inform program creation and improvement. The report finds that data can help reduce the complexity of adaptation as state leaders try to expand the program into multiple state sectors at once. It then advises that policymakers collect data on the program itself so policymakers can continuously improve and share advancements with the public and other states.
The last section of the report concerns employer support and program resources. The researchers recommend that states increase funding to these initiatives using existing dollars and new sources of federal funding, primarily through grant programs. States should also engage employers by helping establish a mutually-beneficial relationship between the workforce sector and the apprenticeship program. The two would “gain deep understanding of their shared talent needs” and work closely to develop and improve the program. Reducing logistical, regulatory, and financial barriers can help facilitate this. Logistical barriers may include the need for an intermediary agency to help reduce disconnect between the K–12 and workforce sectors, regulatory barriers the need to update work regulations so that youth can participate in certain industries, and financial barriers the need to provide financial incentives or assistance to key employers.
Aligning K–12 schooling, higher education, and the workforce is difficult and complex. PAYA’s playbook is long and presents many challenges for leaders who seek to follow it. But youth apprenticeships also have to potential to provide more children with pathways to college and fulfilling careers, so leaders ought to consider trying. The benefits could be substantial—for both young people and state economies.
SOURCE: “State Policy Playbook to Advance Youth Partnership,” Partnership to Advance Youth Apprenticeship (July 2022).