Put Youth on a Path to Education and Employment

Friday, November 16, 2018
Ryan Reyna

Education plus experience equals opportunity. That’s one of the biggest takeaways from efforts across the country to improve students career readiness. And it is a lesson that is on display every day in high-quality youth apprenticeship programs. We must build on this success to provide even greater opportunities for students—especially those from traditionally underserved backgrounds—to engage in programs that offer a clear path to a postsecondary credential and a foundation for advancing their careers.

The economic data are clear: some level of postsecondary education and training is necessary to find a job with a family-sustaining wage and career trajectory. K-12 and higher education leaders are stepping up to make sure that their education and training systems are aligned to the new demands of the economy, and yet much work remains to close postsecondary and workforce gaps. We must work together to ensure students are not only prepared for, but are on an accelerated path to success.

That’s why we are excited to be a member of the Partnership to Advance Youth Apprenticeship (PAYA), which is a multi-year initiative that will support efforts in states and cities to expand access to high-quality apprenticeship opportunities for high school age youth. As an organization dedicated to strengthening the intersections between K-12, higher education, and the workforce so that more students can attain postsecondary credentials, we know first-hand the role that aligned systems can play in opening doors to economic opportunity. High-quality youth apprenticeship programs serve as a real-life model for bridging systems for student success.

To take full advantage of this model, states and communities must build youth apprenticeship programs that accelerate students’ progress beyond high school. That’s why “portable” is one of the five principles for high-quality youth apprenticeship. Portable means that the learning that takes place in high-quality youth apprenticeship programs leads to transferable college credit and, ultimately, postsecondary credentials that expand options for students.

As states and cities look to develop and scale youth apprenticeship programs, partnerships between K-12 and higher education will be imperative for success. The true mark of quality will come when the program can demonstrate that it:

  • Leads to measurable academic gains and increased postsecondary attainment for students in both the short- and long-term.
  • Provides affordable postsecondary credentials and credits.
  • Enables youth to transfer postsecondary credits earned through the program to other institutions and provides them value in local labor market and across an industry or sector.

Ensuring portability is not an easy task, as we found in our recently released report, Credential Currency. There are too few mechanisms in place to identify and promote the credentials that provide students currency in higher education or the labor market. Fortunately, when designed well, we know youth apprenticeship programs meet both of those criteria: help students start their postsecondary education at no cost and get paid work experience alongside a mentor. In fact, many youth apprenticeships result in the very credentials that states are seeking to promote through their K-12 finance and accountability systems.

There is significant momentum in communities, states and nationally to expand youth apprenticeship. In harnessing that momentum, we must ensure that quality is at the center of every design and expansion effort. When K-12 and higher education leaders partner to give youth an opportunity to earn credentials with labor market value and get a leg up on their future education, everyone wins. Let’s broaden students’ options for the future, making sure they can harness their knowledge, skills and experience across a shifting postsecondary and economic landscape.