Youth apprenticeships are increasingly seen as a promising solution to a broken workforce development pipeline that too often fails to connect working people—especially young adults and people of color—to the training and the jobs they need. But to truly live up to their promise, apprenticeship programs for youth and young adults must be made more effective at reducing barriers to participation and completion, especially for students of color, according to a new report from the NC Justice Center.
Youth apprenticeships are paid, structured programs that prepare high school students, recent graduates, and young adults for a technical trade or occupation. They typically involve paid on-the-job training, related classroom-based instruction, a progressive pay scale with wages increasing each year as the apprentices learn, a national Journeyman certificate, and—in North Carolina—a free associate degree at a local community college.
To understand the barriers facing youth apprenticeship completion, the study examines a consortium of county-level, locally led apprenticeship programs belonging to the Eastern Triad Workforce Initiative (ETWI), located in central North Carolina—a national model for apprenticeships for youth and young adults. This regional collaborative includes individual apprenticeship programs in four counties—Alamance, Guilford, Randolph, and Rockingham.
The report finds 68 unique barriers present collectively across the entire ETWI relating to program design and interactions with parents, employers, high schools, and community colleges. This includes 32 barriers specifically hindering students of color. At the same time, however, the study finds program partners and employers aggressively adapted their strategies to address many of these barriers as they arose.
Specific findings include:
- Improving completion outcomes for apprentices of color involves getting the pipeline right for everyone and removing the special barriers that affect apprentices of color in particular. This involves designing an apprenticeship pipeline with all the major components—high school recruitment, student participation in pre-apprenticeships and apprenticeships with the same employer, opportunity to complete an associate degree at a local community college, and above all, local employer participation and leadership. Without these pieces, students will fall out of a broken apprenticeship pipeline.
- Getting the pipeline right for apprentices of color means correcting for inequities in access to existing supports and systems. High school students of color may never enter the apprenticeship program due to parental skepticism of non-four-year degree options and historical exclusion from trades and manufacturing, or because of lack of intentional engagement and implicit biases among career counseling staff and employers keep these students from accessing these opportunities. Additionally, students from low-income families may face financial barriers to purchasing the equipment, transportation, and course materials they need to complete the program. Read more