As employers lament a shortage of skilled workers, families bemoan the cost of higher education, and high schools struggle to prepare students for college and career, one solution is gaining steam: youth apprenticeship.
“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 more than $30,000 in 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.