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Youth Apprenticeship in America Today: Connecting High School Students to Apprenticeship

Through the yearlong research effort that led to this report, New America's Center on Education & Skills (CESNA) connected with a wide array of youth apprenticeship practitioners and thought leaders. It’s a small community that connects at conferences and across neighboring states when opportunities arise. But overall, it’s a fragmented field with no forum for consistent, ongoing contact and collaboration. We’d like to change that through the Youth Apprenticeship Learning Network.

We have two aims for the Network’s virtual and in-person convenings: to learn about each others’ experiences and innovations and to discuss the public policy challenges and opportunities to scaling youth apprenticeship. The Network aims to outline clear strategies concerning federal-state policy alignment, industry engagement, and equity – and to explore youth apprenticeship practice and policy from the perspective of students, employers, educators, and practitioners.

To find out more about the Learning Network, or to signal your interest in joining, let us know by email.

“So, what are you doing next year?” It’s a common question American high school students face from teachers, neighbors, their friends, and parents. For students today, the most common answer is college, with nearly 70 percent of today’s high school graduates enrolling in higher education after graduation. While high school graduation rates are at a historic high, still nearly a third of students do not enroll in postsecondary education after graduation. Of those that do, just over half will graduate with a bachelor’s degree in six years, and their prospects are worse if they start at a two-year college. Among completers, there is no guarantee of a well-paying job to help pay off the over $30,000 debt that today’s college graduates accumulate on average.

As policymakers contemplate new ways to prepare students for college and careers, youth apprenticeship stands out as a compelling option. Apprenticeship is a proven educational model that integrates on-the-job and classroom learning. Apprentices gain valuable work experience and access to professional mentors and networks, and earn postsecondary credit and credentials. From day one, an apprentice is a paid employee, developing valuable skills to add productive value while on the job. To realize these potential benefits for students and employers alike, however, youth apprenticeship must function as a partnership across industry, high schools, and postsecondary institutions.

Compared to countries like Germany and Switzerland, youth apprenticeship is an underutilized education and workforce strategy in the U.S., but it's gaining steam in many states. In Youth Apprenticeship in America Today: Connecting High School Students to Apprenticeship, produced with support from the Siemens Foundation, Brent Parton summarizes findings from a year-long research effort that included focus groups, polling, a national landscape scan, and interviews with practitioners and national experts.

The report looks back at the history of youth apprenticeship in the U.S. and distills current trends into five key findings. The report uncovers public openness to youth apprenticeship and a diverse landscape of existing programs. Profiles of state strategies depict efforts underway to expand youth apprenticeship opportunities in high-demand industries like advanced manufacturing, business services, information technology, and healthcare. Together these findings set the foundation for a new national conversation about the promise and challenge of growing youth apprenticeship in America today.

On December 14, 2017, New America hosted a launch event for this policy paper, featuring a keynote and two panel discussions: one featuring experts currently leading youth apprenticeship initiatives, and another featuring national experts on future directions for the field. If you couldn't make the event, you can view the recording on the event page.