States’ Role in Advancing High-Quality Youth Apprenticeship

Most family-sustaining jobs require at least some form of additional degree or credential attainment beyond high school. American youth are often confronted with difficult financial choices and confusion on career prospects as they decide how to best pursue additional education and training options. Governors and other state leaders are leveraging a variety of strategies to help high-school students navigate this challenge. One promising-but-underutilized strategy is youth apprenticeship. Youth apprenticeship allows students to complete high school, start their postsecondary education at no cost, get paid work experience alongside a mentor and start along a career path that broadens their options for the future.

Building on our continuing work with states on the expansion of work-based learning strategies, the National Governors Association Center for Best Practices (NGA Center) is partnering with New America and several other national organizations and funders as part of the Partnership to Advance Youth Apprenticeship (PAYA). PAYA is a multi-year initiative that will support efforts in states and communities to expand high-quality youth apprenticeship opportunities. This support will include improving public awareness and understanding of effective youth apprenticeship models and helping policymakers and practitioners scale those that effectively serve participating students, employers and communities.

Governors and other state leaders can play an important role in developing and scaling high-quality youth apprenticeships, as defined in the principles established by the PAYA partnership. In particular, the “Accountable” PAYA principle is critical at the state level, as this principle includes an emphasis on programs sustaining high-level leadership and support from all relevant partners. State policy is particularly important in the expansion of youth apprenticeships because, while high-quality programs currently exist, only a small fraction of all high-school aged students participate in them (see New America’s 2017 research on the youth apprenticeship landscape). These programs currently operate as a niche strategy in a limited number of states and regions. They vary significantly in terms of their structures and experiences for students and employers, making state-level support a crucial component of significant growth.

State leaders can support the expansion of youth apprenticeship by providing dedicated funding, implementing policies that allow work-based learning to occur in high schools and establishing accountability mechanismssuch as quality standards, program approval processes and data collection to evaluate outcomes. Governors also can help to scale youth apprenticeship opportunities by serving as public champions for this model, which includesraising awareness and building relationships with business leaders who can benefit from youth apprenticeship. Some states have already taken significant steps to expand youth apprenticeship opportunities. A few strong examples of these efforts, all of which are supported at least in part through dedicated state funding, include:

· Colorado, under former Governor John Hickenlooper’s leadership, partnered with philanthropic organizations to start CareerWise Colorado, a nonprofit intermediary that connects industry and education to create a statewide youth-apprenticeship system focused on various growing sectors of the state’s economy. The initiative is focused on scaling this model to 20,000 youth apprentices, or about 10 percent of Colorado students in their last two years of high school, by 2027.

· Apprenticeship Maryland is a youth apprenticeship program that provides “earn and learn” work opportunities forstudents in high-demand occupations. The program was established through legislation signed by NGA Vice Chair and Maryland Governor Larry Hogan in 2015 and piloted in two local school systems, achieving a 145 percent increase in student participation and more than 200 percent growth in business participation by the end of the second year. Apprenticeship Maryland is now a Career and Technical Education (CTE) program of study open statewide to local industry and education partnerships that meet program criteria to ensure quality.

· Wisconsin’s Youth Apprenticeship Program is a long-standing initiative that supports 33 regional consortiums that operate youth apprenticeship programs under state accountability frameworks in a variety of occupations. The program supports more than 4,000 youth apprentices and has operated continuously since 1991 due to consistent, bipartisan support from governors and state legislatures.

A common theme across these examples is the important role of governors and other state leaders in creating accountable state-level systems that support strong industry-education partnerships. Several other states also have active youth apprenticeship initiatives in place. The NGA Center for Best Practices will be working with other partners through the PAYA initiative to share promising practices and lessons learned from across the country.

Geoff King is a senior policy analyst and Kristin Baddour is a policy analyst in the Economic Opportunity Division of National Governors Association’s Center for Best Practices.

The Partnership to Advance Youth Apprenticeship (PAYA) released guiding principles for high-quality youth apprenticeship programs. You can read more about each principle and its related outcomes in the full document here. Over the coming weeks as part of its first blog series, members of the partnership will be exploring these principles in-depth and why each is important to both the expansion and quality of youth apprenticeship across the country.