Registered apprenticeship programs offer workers paid, on-the-job learning experience under the supervision of an experienced mentor, job-related classroom training, and the chance to earn a portable industry-recognized credential. When done well, they benefit employers, employees, and the economy—the definition of a win-win-win. It should come as no surprise that they’ve seen a surge of bipartisan support and interest from policymakers who are grappling with the pandemic’s impact on the workforce.
But apprenticeships aren’t just for adults. Youth apprenticeships have been hailed as a crucial strategy for establishing affordable and reliable pathways from high school into college and the workforce. Like registered apprenticeships, high-quality youth apprenticeship programs offer students the chance to learn and earn under the tutelage of experienced professionals, are tied to career-based instruction, and culminate in industry-recognized credentials or postsecondary credit. But unlike registered apprenticeships, they are far less prevalent and often out of reach for most students.
In an effort to address this issue, New America launched the Partnership to Advance Youth Apprenticeship (PAYA) in 2018. PAYA is a multiyear collaborative designed to improve awareness and help cities and states expand access to high-quality apprenticeship opportunities for high schoolers. PAYA’s latest contribution to the field is a state policy playbook for youth apprenticeships published by the National Governors Association. Though the playbook would be a useful tool for any state leader, the recommendations focus primarily on governors, as they are in a unique position to influence state policy environments and be a unifying force across sectors.
Using this playbook as a guide, here’s a look at three steps that Ohio Governor Mike DeWine could take to tap into the potential of youth apprenticeships.
1. Establish a statewide vision
Ohio has a solid apprenticeship structure for adults that includes state laws regarding governance, an ApprenticeOhio site that offers the public a host of information, and an Ohio Means Jobs site where job seekers can search through over 1,300 apprenticeship opportunities available in the Buckeye State. When it comes to youth apprenticeship programs, though, information is a lot harder to come by. ApprenticeOhio references pre-apprenticeships, but there doesn’t appear to be an easily accessible or searchable list of programs designed specifically for high school students. Information regarding industry-recognized credentials abounds, but there are no clear links between state-approved credentials and youth apprenticeship programs.
One reason why there’s a lack of information and opportunities is that youth apprenticeships just aren’t a priority. Consider Ohio’s Attainment Goal 2025 as a comparison point. Because attainment is a priority for state and local leaders, a ton of new programs and initiatives have cropped up over the last several years. Apprenticeship—at least at the youth level—hasn’t benefited from the same priority level status, which means attention, funding, and manpower are going elsewhere.
Establishing a statewide vision for youth apprenticeships would go a long way toward changing that. The governor could lead the charge by calling together a group of key stakeholders from various sectors—leaders in secondary and higher education, industry, policy, and community outreach and advocacy—to discuss how youth apprenticeship programs could help solve some of Ohio’s most pressing issues. The PAYA playbook notes that “a strong, measurable, time-based vision” is necessary to provide employers, students, and schools with the “reassurance and guidance” they need to invest in youth apprenticeships. With this in mind, the governor could use the feedback gathered in stakeholder meetings to establish measurable and time-based statewide goals for the number of youth apprenticeship programs available, student and employer participation, and outcomes.
2. Increase awareness and improve alignment
Getting state and local leaders invested is only one piece of the puzzle. Another piece is students themselves—if they aren’t aware of the opportunities available to them, the potential of youth apprenticeships will remain untapped. The playbook recommends tackling student awareness head on by weaving career exploration and preparation throughout K–12 education. Specifically, the playbook calls on governors to create a continuum of career readiness for students that would start in the early grades with exploration, and then expand to preparation and training as students get older. Doing so would not only ensure that students are aware of various career opportunities, it would also give K–12, postsecondary, and industry leaders an opportunity to ensure alignment across sectors.
There are already some laws on the books regarding career awareness for K–12 students, but Ohio can do better. To make it work, state leaders would need to provide consistent funding for career exploration and training programs, as well as career guidance and counseling, all of which are integral to making the continuum effective. For examples on how other states have made this work, the playbook points to Nebraska, which has a Workplace Experiences Continuum as well as Career Readiness Standards, and Hawai’i, which developed a work-based learning continuum in collaboration with employers.
3. Encourage employer participation
The final—and perhaps most crucial—piece of the puzzle is employers. If Ohio employers aren’t willing or able to participate in youth apprenticeship programs, then a statewide vision and student awareness won’t matter. To encourage employer participation, the playbook recommends that governors focus on reducing regulatory, financial, and logistical barriers. Ohio has already taken care of some regulatory red tape, as state law allows minors who are employed as part of “work-oriented programs with the purpose of educating students” to work more than forty hours in one week including during school hours. Ohio is also headed in the right direction with financial incentives, as the recently passed Senate Bill 166 offers tax credits to businesses that provide work-based learning experiences for students enrolled in approved CTE pathways.
But to truly capitalize on the potential of youth apprenticeships, state leaders should invest in apprenticeship-specific incentives. For example, employers in Georgia who participate in work-based learning programs through the Georgia Department of Education can receive up to a 5 percent reduction in their premium for workers’ compensation insurance. And in Rhode Island, the Governor’s Workforce Board oversees a Work Immersion program that helps employers train prospective workers through paid internships by reimbursing them at a rate of 50 or 75 percent for wages paid to eligible participants. Ohio could offer similar programs but tailor them toward employers who participate in youth apprenticeships.
Dealing with the economic fallout of the pandemic, worker shortages, and skill and readiness gaps isn’t likely to get any easier over the next several years. Unfortunately, there is no silver bullet that can solve all those problems. But work-based learning programs like apprenticeships could help immensely, and youth apprenticeships, in particular, could be a boon for young people preparing to enter the workforce. Here’s hoping the governor and other lawmakers also see their potential.