Contributed by: CAREERWISE USA

Modern youth apprenticeship applies the foundations of a time-tested training methodology to the needs and aspirations of today’s learners, educators and employers. Braiding learning in the classroom and at work, rather than stacking them sequentially, allows learners to amplify and mutually apply the benefits of each. In an apprenticeship, a young learner chooses among defined occupations and enters a structured training program with a company committed to their professional growth. Apprentices do consequential, paid work and are held to the same standards as other employees. At the same time, they receive high school and postsecondary classroom instruction on theory and concepts relevant to the skills they are developing at work; the real-life application of these lessons ignites academic engagement. Youth apprenticeship is typically launched and led by an intermediary organization with the expertise and credibility needed to bring disparate stakeholders together and fill the void created by a long history of siloed education and employment systems. Intermediaries recruit K-12, higher education, and business partners to create apprenticeship opportunities and fill them with student candidates, work with industry to define apprenticeable occupations and create training standards, work with higher education to articulate credit, prepare supervisors and apprentices to work together, and support apprentices as they progress.

How does the strategy create more equitable access and opportunities?

Education and workforce systems rely almost exclusively on a single academic path to success, one which is not equally accessible to all youth aspiring to enter the workforce. High-quality youth apprenticeship is a low-cost entry point into career pathways that lead to good jobs. Youth apprenticeship provides structure and support to students as they navigate a defined set of courses and training that lead toward credits and credentials. Additionally, paid work experiences help students build their professional networks, which are critically important for long-term success, gain credit that can expedite credential attainment, and earn money to support their future education and training. As apprenticeship becomes more recognized, the portability of the associated credentials and relevance in the job market increases. Currently, many youth experiencing poverty are presented with and/or guided to training opportunities that do not result in a postsecondary credential with labor market value. Youth apprenticeship enables options for students that can lead to economic opportunity and mobility.

What outcomes or benefits are associated with the strategy?

What are the budget implications for implementing the strategy?

Dedicated staff are needed to perform youth apprenticeship intermediary functions, from convening and aligning stakeholders, to developing and maintaining partnerships, to providing direct services and supports to apprentices and employers. Staff capacity is also needed for policy assessment and advocacy, data management and program evaluation and developing and implementing training curricula. These functions can be housed within the infrastructure of an existing organization or shared across multiple partners, including education partners, workforce agencies, employers, and other community partners, such as an intermediary organization. Youth apprenticeship programs are also likely to require software to manage customer relationships and data and to facilitate and assess apprentice learning and performance. The success of larger cohorts within enterprise-level companies can be augmented by the leadership of a dedicated program manager within the business.

Note, there are other state and federal funds that can be leveraged to start youth apprenticeship programs. Beyond Perkins funding, a community college could use HEERF Act dollars to fund tuition for apprentices, or a state could its use GEERS or ARPA set aside to make innovation grants to school districts to bring together regional employers to develop youth apprenticeship “packages” that leverage dual enrollment relationships and are relevant to regional labor markets.

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How will the strategy limit significant recurring costs while ensuring long-term sustainability?

Because youth apprenticeship confers tangible benefits, including the potential of positive financial returns to employers, it is distinct from many education and training programs in that it can be operated as a social enterprise. Most U.S. implementations of youth apprenticeship are led by intermediary organizations that centrally coordinate stakeholders and provide a host of direct services and supports to apprentice employers. Many, but not all, programs include employer contributions to operate. The fees that employers pay for these services form a revenue stream that can, at scale, significantly reduce the intermediary’s reliance on philanthropic or government funding and provide a long-term path to financial sustainability.

What is the anticipated timeline for launching the strategy?

Launching sustainable youth apprenticeship programs that are well-poised to create long-term systemic change beyond the programmatic level requires engaging and garnering buy-in from a multitude of stakeholders. Thus, the timeline for launching a new youth apprenticeship initiative varies heavily based on the strength, breadth and depth of existing programs and relationships among local intermediaries, education systems, employers and policymakers. An accelerated launch for an organization with willing partners in place may take just a year, while those that require more relational groundwork to be laid will run between 1.5-2 years. Youth apprenticeship technical assistance providers, like CareerWise USA, can assist new initiatives in abbreviating the time to launch.

What internal and/or external capacity (e.g. personnel, infrastructure, training, etc.) is needed to launch the strategy? To monitor and sustain it?


  • Influential partnership-building experts with linkages to education and industry leaders
  • Innovative and creative education, industry and policymaking leadership willing to consider and test new approaches to youth education and employment
  • Personnel with knowledge of education and employment policy environments
  • Technology infrastructure to track apprentices and their learning and development
  • Competency-based training progressions for each industry-demanded occupation

Monitor and Sustain

  • Policy advocacy resources
  • Continuous business partnership cultivation and expansion strategy and personnel
  • Case management personnel with the capacity to maximize customer experience
  • Training curricula for supervisors and apprentices and training specialists
  • Personnel to manage continuous improvement and program evaluation and related data management systems
Workforce Development - Invest Forward
Youth Apprenticeship Opportunities - Invest Forward
Allison Shelley for EDUimages

What are the first 3-5 steps to take to implement the strategy?

  1. Secure K-12 and employer commitments to enable students to work and learn
  2. Gather baseline support from and align incentives across legislative, workforce, industry and education leaders
  3. Work with industry to outline the competency progressions and relevant related technical training for in-demand, apprenticeable occupations
  4. Facilitate student hiring by working with business partners to define apprenticeship opportunities and select candidates, and by supporting students to apply
  5. Train incoming supervisors on inclusive training practices and apprentices on employability and early occupational skills

What are potential challenges for implementing the strategy?

  1. Challenge: Expanding youth apprenticeship requires balancing the supply of and demand for apprentices. In the early phases of program launch, it’s common to experience faster growth in interest from either students or employers. The emphasis of demand may shift back and forth as the program stabilizes.
    • Solution: Cultivating deep and broad relationships with K-12 and business stakeholders at multiple levels of community leadership will allow for more nimble control over the levers of supply and demand.
  2. Challenge: Higher education remains the normative post-secondary pathway. There is particular pressure on students of color and those from low-income backgrounds to enroll, given the breadth of evidence that degree acquisition is the primary catalyst of economic mobility. Persistent interest in full-time college can be a source of youth apprentice attrition.
    • Solution: Design and build the program with a long-term focus on ensuring portability and transferability of the learning, including the postsecondary credits earned, and the apprenticeship credential. In addition, clearly articulate to students from the application stage onward how higher education and youth apprenticeship can complement one another.
  3. Challenge: Apprenticeship is an unfamiliar and even stigmatized model among many employers in today’s leading industries. Expanding youth apprenticeship at scale requires changing mental models about the private sector’s role in training young learners. Such change can take time to effect and is challenging to measure.
    • Solution: Invest early in targeted narrative change strategies to bolster the effectiveness of traditional marketing and communications tactics and relationship building activities.

What are models of schools, districts, and/or organizations that are successfully implementing this strategy?

What are some additional resources for districts/states interested in implementing this strategy?

New America – Partnership to Advance Youth Apprenticeship (PAYA)’s Defining Principles for High-Quality Youth Apprenticeship

ESG – The Critical Role of Intermediary Organizations in Expanding Youth Apprenticeship

JFF — Self-Assessment and Planning Tool for Youth Apprenticeship Programs

JFF – What to Know When Planning Your Youth Apprenticeship Program

Urban Institute – CareerWise: Case Study of a Youth Apprenticeship Intermediary