June 26, 2020
The COVID-19 pandemic shut down much of the U.S. economy seemingly overnight in March, and now, as businesses cautiously begin to reopen, ongoing concerns about the coronavirus are creating uncertainty that makes it difficult to plan for the future of the workforce.
During any economic recession, low-skilled workers are often the first to lose their jobs and the last to be rehired when the economy recovers. Things are more complicated this time because it’s not clear when, or how, it will be safe for people to go back to work in large numbers, and it’s likely that many jobs will be permanently eliminated.
This is why it is especially important that we continue to offer youth apprenticeship programs that put young people on a path to attaining the in-demand skills they will need to enter and succeed in the workforce.
Designed for young people between the ages of 16 and 24, youth apprenticeships provide a foundation of work experience that will kick-start participants’ careers. They are an effective means of aligning a students’ high school and/or postsecondary educations with the needs of the labor market.
In the fall of 2019, JFF created a Self-Assessment and Planning Tool to assist apprenticeship stakeholders, community-based organizations and other intermediaries in developing high-quality, sustainable and equitable youth apprenticeships. The tool assists in the planning and assessment process of communities and intermediary organizations in developing high quality, sustainable and equitable youth apprenticeships.
This assessment tool includes worksheets that CBOs and others can use to determine whether they are prepared to launch high-quality youth apprenticeships, and whether their local business, political, and educational ecosystems are capable of supporting such programs. Completing the assessment is a first step in understanding where a program stands and what direction it will go in by evaluating factors such as local leadership, the regional business climate, and the management capabilities of the organization that will run the program.
The tool was designed to ensure that work-based learning programs for young people embody the Partnership to Advance Youth Apprenticeship (PAYA)’s five defining principles of high-quality youth apprenticeships—meaning they are career-oriented, equitable, portable, adaptable, and accountable. Programs built with those principles in mind are accessible to a wide range of students and focus on helping participants acquire knowledge and skills that are career-oriented and transferrable to both postsecondary education and jobs in multiple industries. They also emphasize continual improvement through the use of metrics to monitor outcomes for students, employers, and the program itself.
CBOs and other intermediaries can use the tool to look across the landscape and ensure that they have the necessary resources and supports to run effective programs. They can also use it as a catalyst for change because it helps them determine what they are doing well and where there is room for improvement, identify barriers to progress, and recognize opportunities they can take advantage of. For example, the tool asks whether state and local leaders encourage youth apprenticeship. It also raises questions about support from business leaders: Have local businesses identified talent shortages where apprenticeships could help fill the demand? Are businesses and policymakers working together to develop education and workforce programs to meet the need for in-demand jobs?
One organization that has used JFF’s Self-Assessment and Planning Tool to strengthen its programs is Philadelphia Works, a workforce development intermediary.
The leaders of Philadelphia Works wanted to add a pre-apprenticeship program to their early childhood education (ECE) and youth programming in local charter high schools. They hoped to incorporate more career-oriented learning into their programs to expose students to career opportunities at an early age. They used JFF’s tool to assess their plan and see where they could improve it.
Members of the Philadelphia Works pre-apprenticeship team met for 90 minutes on three occasions to answer questions posed in the tool. The results prompted them to expand certain elements of the program. For example, they wanted their pre-apprenticeship offering to include internship opportunities, and completing the assessment helped them recognize that they would need to recruit more employers in order to make the internship program more comprehensive.
Overall, the tool helped Philadelphia Works leaders think broadly about their career-oriented initiatives and find ways to set students up for greater success.
That’s how the tool is intended to work: It gives apprenticeship providers an opportunity to step back from their daily tasks and think more strategically about their programs—and the employers, policymakers, and other partners involved in it.
Students across the country whose schools pulled the plug on in-person education because of COVID-19 are becoming increasingly concerned that they will return to class to find that apprenticeship opportunities they were counting on have been lost. However, we need apprenticeships now more than ever because they play an important role in long-term workforce development strategies.
At this moment of economic upheaval, we need well-planned, sustainable, and equitable youth apprenticeship programs that give students an on-ramp to career success. JFF’s Self-Assessment and Planning Tool provides a framework that can help providers build such programs.