RALEIGH (July 22, 2019) – Youth apprenticeships are a promising solution to a broken workforce development pipeline that all too often fails to connect working people—especially young adults and people of color—to the training and jobs they need. But to truly live up to their promise, these apprenticeship programs 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.

This study provides a composite view of the barriers facing student completion across all of the county-level programs in the entire initiative, along with a collective picture of the strategies these programs are using to address these barriers. The goal is to benefit anyone in the United States seeking to develop or improve apprenticeship pipelines that are effective and racially equitable.

“Apprenticeships are an important part of the job training puzzle, but only if we can make them as effective and equitable as possible,” said Allan Freyer, Director of the Justice Center’s Workers’ Rights Project and co-author of the study. “Too many barriers typically stand in the way of students entering and competing apprenticeship programs, and it’s time to change that.”

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. 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.
  • Community validators, including existing apprentices of color, are essential for addressing access issues during the recruitment stage of the apprenticeship pipeline. Many students of color may never see apprenticeship as something they could do if they never encounter employers or apprentices who look like them. Trusted voices in communities of color can bridge this divide, overcome parental skepticism, and help students of color realize apprenticeships are not just for white people.

“Employers and their workforce development partners can use this report to ensure that job training programs for young adults are more effective in connecting local talent to local in-demand jobs,” said Allison Forbes, Research Director for the Center for Regional Economic Competitiveness and co-author of the report. “As this report shows, many programs would benefit not only from a heightened awareness of the barriers to participation but also from more structured program participation data that helps stakeholders identify critical milestones and make better investments in local talent development.”

  • Employer buy-in and adaptability is crucial to the success of these programs. In North Carolina, ETWI employers have played a key role in creating, sustaining, and adapting to the needs of their apprentices. They have actively recruited apprentices and other employers, sought to increase the diversity of the students recruited, developed cash funds to support students’ with low incomes need for transportation and safety equipment, agreed to pay their apprentices for time spent in the classroom, and worked with individual apprentices when special needs arose.
  • Funding is necessary for addressing key barriers, supporting local partners, and expansion. Youth apprenticeship programs require additional dedicated staff capacity at the local level in anchor organizations that can convene partners, engage schools and students and coordinate all the moving parts required to build a strong local pipeline to employers.
  • The apprenticeship tuition waiver is the linchpin of the program. Tuition costs associated with completion of post-secondary credentials are often a significant barrier for completion, especially for students of color who tend to come from lower income families. North Carolina’s tuition waiver allows apprentices to complete their degree for free—a huge boost to low-income students with low incomes and a significant marketing advantage for student recruitment.

“Apprenticeship is often considered the ‘Cadillac of workforce development’—but only if apprenticeship opportunities are available to everyone,” said Pamela Howze, Program Director for Work-Based Learning at the National Fund for Workforce Solutions and co-author of the report. “These findings will support the National Fund for Workforce Solutions’ new strategic priority to improve racial equity and inclusion in workforce outcomes. As we share this learning across the National Fund network, our more than 30 partner communities will be better equipped to ensure people of color succeed in workforce programs that lead to quality jobs and livable wages.”