Building Community Partnerships for Youth Apprenticeship: A Systems Thinking Approach

The Partnership to Advance Youth Apprenticeship Blog Series
Blog Post
Feb. 14, 2019

The Partnership to Advance Youth Apprenticeship (PAYA) released guiding principles for high-quality youth apprenticeship programs. You can read more about each principle and their related outcomes in the full document here. Over the coming weeks as part of its first blog series, members of the partnership will be exploring these principles in-depth and why each is important to both the expansion and quality of youth apprenticeship across the country.

Everything old is new again. Apprenticeship is an established idea that has been revived to meet new labor and economic challenges. Right now, there is significant momentum across the United States to advance formal apprenticeship programs for high school students and new graduates.

Despite youth apprenticeship’s popularity, little has been written about the importance of partnerships and collaboration in creating them. In order to be successful, youth apprenticeship programs must be built with a variety of community partners: K–12 systems, employers, community colleges, and groups such as chambers of commerce, workforce boards, and community foundations. Youth apprenticeship demands a “systems thinking” approach where all partners work in coordination toward the goal of preparing youth to enter and succeed in these programs. But when youth apprenticeship is something new to these partners, where to begin?

Within the K–12 system, educators must play a key role in connecting and preparing students for youth apprenticeship programs as well as supporting their success. However, many educators are unaware of youth apprenticeship and the opportunities that exist in general in business.

This was a familiar challenge when I worked with a number of partners in Charlotte, NC to establish a new youth apprenticeship program. To “educate the educators” we established a summer boot camp called STEMersion to give teachers and career counselors throughout the region the opportunity to experience hands-on work in a variety of sectors by rotating through different jobs with private sector employers, completing tasks, and obtaining industry experience that they can reference in the classroom.

Based on that success, I had the opportunity to work at the state level to develop tools to make it easier for more communities in North Carolina to start youth apprenticeship partnerships. For example, we developed a recruiting, screening, and testing model for regional education and industry partners to place high school students into apprenticeship programs. We provided information for educators about the benefits of apprenticeship and the skills students need to thrive in apprenticeship opportunities. This model has been used throughout the state and has yielded a rigorous assessment methodology to ensure a good match between interested students and employers offering apprenticeship opportunities.

Naturally, employers also need help. Just like their education partners, they are often new to apprenticeship and need information and support to help make programs succeed. For example, employers often perceive that hosting youth apprentices could create additional risks and liabilities for them. It is imperative that they learn from other employers how to solve these issues and receive clear statements from policymakers about youth employment laws to give the needed peace of mind.

They also need to hear what it takes to make youth apprenticeship successful. Among the biggest issues for employers new to apprenticeship is how to establish robust mentoring and mentor training programs to ensure apprentices can build skills and become productive team members. The employers in the Guilford Apprenticeship Partners, which currently offers youth apprenticeship across four counties in the North Carolina, reached out to employers in surrounding counties to educate them about the value of youth apprenticeship, and to help orient new employer partners to support their success.

Guilford Apprenticeship Partners underscores how youth apprenticeship can grow though systemic community partnership with individual employers, the K–12 system, community colleges, chambers of commerce, workforce partners, and local philanthropy all working toward their shared goal—preparing youth to enter the workforce and succeed. This approach has helped Guildford Apprenticeship Partners expand its apprenticeship program offerings, adding new employer partners and 85 high school youth into Registered Apprenticeships in advanced manufacturing in 2018 alone. The partnership has expanded its sectors to HVAC and IT and is joining with Cone Health to create additional youth apprenticeships in health care.

Expanding youth apprenticeship means replicating this systems approach through robust public-private partnerships in communities across the U.S. It starts with recognition by community leaders that there is no more urgent economic development strategy than bringing together K–12, higher education, and the private sector to redesign education and career opportunities for young people. Working together in partnership, not in silos, is how we’ll deliver the education and skills necessary for economic self-sufficiency. High-quality youth apprenticeship is a concrete, shared goal that can move cross-silo dialogue at the community level into joint action.

The National Fund for Workforce Solutions is working across its network of 32 regional collaboratives to support more communities to start youth apprenticeship partnerships. In central Alabama, for example, Central Six Development Council is working diligently to start two cohorts of apprentices in coding and advanced manufacturing, along with Innovate Birmingham (itself a partnership), community colleges, the K–12 system, employers, and entities in the federally funded workforce system. And in Cincinnati, Partners for a Competitive Workforce established the Health Careers Collaborative, an industry partnership, which has led efforts to start health care pre-apprenticeship programs.

These examples and others across the country use many different strategies shaped by community realities, but rely on a similar systems thinking approach through which a variety of partners—from K–12, community colleges, universities, and workforce partners—move toward developing high-quality youth apprenticeship programs that support the success of student and employer participants.

Enjoy what you read? Subscribe to our newsletter to receive updates on what’s new in Education Policy!

Related Topics
Youth Apprenticeship Apprenticeship