CareerWise Elkhart County Pilots Youth Apprenticeship in Indiana

A Partnership to Advance Youth Apprenticeship (PAYA) Network Feature
Blog Post
Nov. 14, 2019

The Partnership to Advance Youth Apprenticeship is featuring monthly profiles of our PAYA Network Members to explore how partnerships across the country are working to launch or expand high-quality youth apprenticeship programs that promote inclusive economic development and create new opportunities for young people.

Partnership: CareerWise Elkhart County
Location: Elkhart County, Indiana
Intermediary Organization: Horizon Education Alliance
Partners: Horizon Education Alliance, Economic Development Corporation of Elkhart County, Ivy Technical Community College, Vincennes University
Target Industries: Advanced Manufacturing, Building and Construction Trades, Education, Information Technology, Healthcare, Business
Pathways: Manufacturing Technician, Computer Technician, Project Coordinator

Ten years ago, at the height of the Great Recession, the “RV Capital of the World” was in a tough place. Elkhart County in northern Indiana saw unemployment leap from 4.8 percent in December 2007 to 16.0 percent in December 2008, the most drastic increase in the country. In 2009, Barack Obama visited the community to paint a clear picture of the baseline for the long road to economic recovery.

In response, more than 200 leaders came together and committed to prioritize education, from early childhood to adulthood, as the strategy through which they would strengthen their community. Shortly after, the Horizon Education Alliance (HEA) was formed to support the education and business sectors, identify collaborative solutions to the most pressing issues facing both sectors, and develop partnerships with education, government, and industry. Following the recession, Elkhart County needed a clear path to long-term economic success and stability, one that would prepare it for an aging workforce as well as prepare its students for meaningful career pathways following high school.

One of the strategies Elkhart County turned to was youth apprenticeship, an educational approach to help address the challenges facing its students. According to the National Student Clearinghouse, approximately 32 percent of Elkhart County high school students complete a college degree within six years of graduating. Like other communities across the nation, the region also struggles with disengagement, especially during high school students’ later years. Youth apprenticeship became a way for the county to re-engage students both inside and outside the four walls of the school. The county is also employing youth apprenticeship as an economic strategy to address the concerns voiced by local industries and businesses, who lack the resources to develop effective systems for recruiting, training, and retaining talent locally. Youth apprenticeship gives the county a way to expand and retain the local workforce by having young people bring their skills, and learn new ones, to these jobs.

After a trip to Germany and Switzerland in 2018 to learn from the European models of youth apprenticeship, HEA led the development of a pilot program in Elkhart County, otherwise known as CareerWise Elkhart County. On August 2, CareerWise Elkhart County hosted a “Student Signing Day,” marking the official launch of the apprenticeship program. Twelve apprentices from eight high schools signed three-year commitments with employers as manufacturing technicians, computer technicians, and project coordinators across various sectors, including healthcare, construction, manufacturing, and IT. Local employers participating in the program include DJ Construction, MapleTronics Computers, Goshen Health, Adorn Hardwoods, Interior Components Plus, Kem Krest, Robert Weed Corporation, Goshen Stamping, and MapleNet Wireless Inc.

CareerWise Elkhart is in the process of incorporating the elements of a high-quality youth apprenticeship program, such as high school credit, college credit, industry certifications, and paid employment, into its existing work-based learning structures. Moving forward, the county plans to register all of its youth apprenticeships with the Indiana State Department of Labor. In addition, CareerWise Elkhart aims to expand to additional occupations, reach more industry partners, and feature as many as 100 job postings by January 2020.

The expeditious launch of youth apprenticeship in Elkhart County was facilitated by the county’s long history of collaboration between the schools, industry, partners, and chambers of commerce. Countywide career awareness and exploration initiatives, as well as employer partnerships, were already in place for over seven years. They allowed for a pipeline into developing apprenticeships.

The county already had in place a competency-based program for adults and incumbent workers, based on competency sets defined by industry leaders, that provided college credit options and industry certifications. In its pilot year, HEA, Ivy Technical Community College, and several business partners developed an industrial manufacturing technician apprenticeship that enrolled 76 adult apprentices and 90 adult pre-apprentices. For high school students, this year, the county launched an Advanced Manufacturing pre-apprenticeship program across four of the region’s seven school districts, with 250 participating students.

In addition, all seven school districts are part of a Comprehensive Counseling Collaborative, which is developing a scope and sequence of career readiness activities that will lead into apprenticeships. All seven Elkhart County school districts are committed to re-structuring existing work-based learning opportunities to support the apprenticeship model and create additional pathways for students into meaningful, high-growth careers.

This close and continued collaboration between schools, industry, and postsecondary institutions has made CareerWise Elkhart one of the leading pilots in the state of Indiana. On a statewide level, CareerWise Elkhart will continue to engage policymakers in Indiana to ensure graduation requirements and other educational policies align with and support the youth apprenticeship model, as well as to facilitate the learning process for other communities that are looking to launch youth apprenticeship programs of their own. With an ambitious goal of 100 apprentices enrolled in the program next year, Jason Harrison, Vice President of Pathways at Horizon Education Alliance, says, “we will be learning from each other and with others across the country. We have a lot of opportunity ahead of us.”

For more information about how the “RV Capital of the World” is designing a scalable, countywide, modern youth apprenticeship system for students and industry, visit CareerWise Elkhart County. To learn more about the PAYA Network and its members, click here. To stay up to date on the activities of the PAYA Grantees and Network, visit or stay connected to the initiative’s progress by following the #PAYA hashtag on Twitter at @NewAmericaEd.

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