What Are Youth Apprenticeships?

Posted March 7, 2023
By the Annie E. Casey Foundation
A young man cuts a pieces of wood as his teacher watches him. They wear goggles and look intently as the young man operates the machinery.

Youth appren­tice­ships are grow­ing more pop­u­lar across the Unit­ed States. These struc­tured, work-based learn­ing oppor­tu­ni­ties offer young peo­ple — par­tic­u­lar­ly young peo­ple of col­or and those from low-income house­holds — the oppor­tu­ni­ty to learn spe­cial­ized skills that they can use through­out their career.

Appren­tice­ship pro­grams allow youth and young adults to gain crit­i­cal job skills and expe­ri­ences with­in or out­side of high school or col­lege. This can low­er the cost of col­lege for stu­dents and help them stand out to find high-qual­i­ty employ­ment in the com­pet­i­tive labor market.

Under­stand­ing Youth Apprenticeships

Although there is cur­rent­ly no fed­er­al def­i­n­i­tion of youth appren­tice­ship, the Part­ner­ship to Advance Youth Appren­tice­ship (PAYA) — a mul­ti­year ini­tia­tive of the non­par­ti­san think tank New Amer­i­ca — out­lines four key char­ac­ter­is­tics to youth apprenticeships:

  • paid, on-the-job learn­ing under the super­vi­sion of skilled employ­ee mentors;
  • ongo­ing assess­ment against estab­lished skills and com­pe­ten­cy standards;
  • relat­ed class­room-based instruc­tion; and
  • a portable, indus­try-rec­og­nized cre­den­tial and post­sec­ondary cred­it upon completion.

Youth appren­tice­ships also pro­vide the spe­cial­ized qual­i­fi­ca­tions and knowl­edge that many employ­ers are seek­ing from a poten­tial employ­ee but with­out the finan­cial bur­den of obtain­ing a four-year col­lege degree. Alter­na­tive­ly, appren­tice­ships give young peo­ple who are seek­ing a col­lege degree — but would oth­er­wise be unable to pay tuition and oth­er edu­ca­tion expens­es — a chance to work and learn simultaneously.

Youth appren­tice­ship is a valu­able tool when it comes to build­ing a labor mar­ket that works for every­one,” says Alli­son Ger­ber, Casey’s direc­tor of Employ­ment, Edu­ca­tion and Train­ing. These pro­grams pre­pare young adults enter­ing the labor mar­ket for well-pay­ing careers while also engag­ing employ­ers in build­ing diverse tal­ent pipelines.”

Advanc­ing Access to Youth Apprenticeships

Expand­ing youth appren­tice­ship is a strat­e­gy for build­ing a more inclu­sive econ­o­my that con­nects stu­dents’ learn­ing needs with the tal­ent needs of indus­try. PAYA helps states and cities in efforts to expand access to high-qual­i­ty appren­tice­ship oppor­tu­ni­ties for high school-age youth. It works toward those broad­er goals through eight nation­al part­ner orga­ni­za­tions in fields that include edu­ca­tion, pol­i­cy and work­force development.

PAYA con­venes and mobi­lizes the exper­tise, expe­ri­ence and net­works of nation­al, state and region­al part­ners to:

  • sup­port area part­ner­ships that increase the num­ber of youth appren­tice­ship pro­grams aligned to PAYA’s def­i­n­i­tion and prin­ci­ples for high-qual­i­ty youth apprenticeship;
  • facil­i­tate learn­ing and inno­va­tion in sup­port of wide-scale adop­tion of best prac­tices and effec­tive poli­cies across a grow­ing field; and
  • strength­en the case and evi­dence base for youth appren­tice­ship to raise aware­ness and mobi­lize pol­i­cy, action and investment.

PAYA’s nation­al part­ners fol­low a set of five guid­ing prin­ci­ples to deliv­er high-qual­i­ty youth appren­tice­ship opportunities:

  1. Career-ori­ent­ed. Does a pro­gram set up par­tic­i­pants for careers that ulti­mate­ly allow them to sup­port a family?
  2. Equi­table. Is a pro­gram acces­si­ble to all stu­dents, includ­ing those who face racial and eco­nom­ic barriers?
  3. Portable. Does a pro­gram result in use­ful cre­den­tials or col­lege credits?
  4. Adapt­able. Are the lessons from a pro­gram val­ued across an entire industry?
  5. Account­able. Are par­tic­i­pant, pro­gram and employ­er out­comes mon­i­tored to ensure that stu­dents and pro­grams are successful?

Addi­tion­al Youth Appren­tice­ship Resources

Learn more about how youth appren­tice­ships ben­e­fit young peo­ple, com­mu­ni­ties and industries:

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