How Youth Apprenticeships Are Bringing Students to Work

Posted January 8, 2022
By the Annie E. Casey Foundation
A Black man and a young Brown woman — both wearing goggles and navy blue polo shirts — huddle together over a machine. The man is providing mentorship.

Phillip Fuller was in high school when he start­ed his appren­tice­ship with Bright Plas­tics, a North Car­oli­na-based plas­tic injec­tion com­pa­ny. Fuller and his employ­er were brought togeth­er by the Guil­ford Appren­tice­ship Pro­gram, one of many ini­tia­tives sup­port­ed by the Part­ner­ship to Advance Youth Appren­tice­ship (PAYA) — a net­work that pro­motes high-qual­i­ty appren­tice­ship oppor­tu­ni­ties for high-school-age youth across the country.

Since its launch in 2018, PAYA learn­ing net­work mem­bers have matched hun­dreds of young peo­ple and employ­ers across the nation. In addi­tion to help­ing employ­ers find new tal­ent, PAYA wants to grow the num­ber of qual­i­ty appren­tice­ship oppor­tu­ni­ties for high school­ers and raise aware­ness of how these oppor­tu­ni­ties can spur a more equi­table and inclu­sive economy.

Advanc­ing Equi­ty through Youth Apprenticeship

In today’s job mar­ket, many employ­ers are look­ing for can­di­dates with a col­lege degree or spe­cial­ized train­ing. These expec­ta­tions are often a road­block for young peo­ple from low-income fam­i­lies, who strug­gle to afford the ris­ing cost of tuition and may not have the job expe­ri­ence or pro­fes­sion­al con­nec­tions needed.

What’s more, prospec­tive col­lege stu­dents face daunt­ing obsta­cles — includ­ing shrink­ing finan­cial aid and the heavy bur­den of stu­dent loan debt — that may pre­vent them from com­plet­ing their degree or credential.

Youth appren­tice­ships com­bat these chal­lenges by com­bin­ing com­pen­sat­ed, hands-on train­ing with crit­i­cal class­room learn­ing to give stu­dents the tools and skills they need to suc­ceed as work­ing adults.

Youth appren­tice­ships are an incred­i­bly impor­tant equi­ty tool,” says Alli­son Ger­ber, who over­sees the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s nation­al employ­ment, edu­ca­tion and train­ing work. For young peo­ple from low-income com­mu­ni­ties, espe­cial­ly youth of col­or, appren­tice­ships can help diver­si­fy tal­ent pipelines and cre­ate afford­able path­ways to and through college.”

For Fuller, his appren­tice­ship with Bright Plas­tics was a win-win sit­u­a­tion” — an oppor­tu­ni­ty to start a career and earn a col­lege degree with­out hav­ing to wor­ry about the high cost of tuition.

In my junior year, I was invit­ed to learn more about the Guil­ford Appren­tice­ship Part­ner­ship by one of my school’s career devel­op­ment coor­di­na­tors,” says Fuller. I was on the fence at first, but I decid­ed to give it a shot because of the oppor­tu­ni­ties it would afford me. The pro­gram would pay for me to attain my asso­ciate degree, I would receive guar­an­teed rais­es every year and I would get prac­ti­cal, on-the-job training.”

Each week, Fuller divid­ed his days between high school class­es and shifts at Bright Plas­tics. While bal­anc­ing class­es and six-hour shifts wasn’t always easy, he found that he advanced quick­ly thanks to the sup­port of his appren­tice­ship pro­gram and his men­tors in the work­place. In just five years, Fuller went from learn­ing the basics to super­vis­ing his own shifts on the fac­to­ry floor. He also earned his asso­ciate degree in man­u­fac­tur­ing tech­nolo­gies from Guil­ford Tech­ni­cal Com­mu­ni­ty College.

With valu­able work expe­ri­ence under his belt, Fuller now plans to work towards a bachelor’s degree in indus­tri­al engi­neer­ing at North Car­oli­na A&T State Uni­ver­si­ty. The school is a short dri­ve from Bright, which will allow him to con­tin­ue work­ing as he tran­si­tions from a shift super­vi­sor to a sales role with­in the company.

I real­ly like to speak with peo­ple and want­ed to trav­el, so we thought that this would be a good next step in my career. In ten years, I would like to be in upper-lev­el man­age­ment with Bright Plas­tics and I think the path I’m on will help me get there.”

What’s Ahead for PAYA?

PAYA’s efforts have not been with­out chal­lenges. The COVID-19 pan­dem­ic has dra­mat­i­cal­ly affect­ed local economies — from labor short­ages to slow­downs in near­ly every indus­try — mak­ing it dif­fi­cult for some employ­ers to find the time to invest in men­tor­ing and super­vis­ing youth apprentices.

The biggest obsta­cle with youth appren­tice­ship is gain­ing buy-in amid an uncer­tain, ever-chang­ing land­scape,” says Ger­ber. With employ­ers, we’re help­ing them see the tan­gi­ble ben­e­fits they can real­ize by invest­ing in youth tal­ent,” says Ger­ber. With schools and stu­dents, our chal­lenge is mak­ing appren­tice­ships work with­in exist­ing edu­ca­tion sys­tems. Though PAYA grantees have made huge strides imple­ment­ing pol­i­cy and fund­ing changes to sup­port appren­tice­ships, the chaos that the pan­dem­ic has cre­at­ed has slowed uptake.”

Despite these bumps in the road, PAYA part­ners hope to sup­port 10,000 youth appren­tice­ships across the nation by 2025 in a diverse range of indus­tries, includ­ing agri­cul­ture, finan­cial ser­vices, hos­pi­tal­i­ty and tourism. PAYA is also focused on incor­po­rat­ing the voic­es and per­spec­tives of young peo­ple to shape future plans.

As a first step, PAYA recent­ly held its inau­gur­al Youth Appren­tice Voice Design Sprint, a ten-week co-design process that allowed young peo­ple, edu­ca­tors, employ­ers and advo­cates to brain­storm ways to com­bat inequity in youth appren­tice­ship recruitment.

The effort cul­mi­nat­ed in sev­er­al key take­aways about effec­tive­ly engag­ing young peo­ple in design and deci­sion-mak­ing process­es, includ­ing the impor­tance of estab­lish­ing com­mon and clear expectations.

Learn More About Youth Apprenticeship

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