Youth Apprenticeships – Earning While Learning Employable Skills

Today, there is a widening gap in the United States between the skills employers are looking for and the skills potential employees have. Employers are searching for graduates with the needed “employable skills” to grow their businesses as well as providing an economic pathway into the middle class for their employees.

According to a report from JFF (Jobs For The Future), 81% of employers think they should be hiring based on the skills someone has, rather than the degree they were awarded. Between 2020 and 2030, BLS projects that about 60 percent of new jobs in the economy will be in occupations that don’t typically require an associate’s, bachelor’s, or graduate degree. The time has come to relook at apprenticeship programs that offer low or debt-free education to a substantial number of students who initially don’t need to earn a college degree.


Apprenticeship programs, where individuals earn a living while learning with a mentor, are turning the workplace into the new learning campus. This learn-and-earn model is spawning new apprenticeship programs based on traditional registered apprenticeships, including pre-apprenticeships, mini-apprenticeships, youth apprenticeships, and apprenticeship degrees.

This expansion of apprenticeship programs has solid support among Americans, including employers and young adults, especially from Gen Z. An American Staffing Association survey found more than 9 in 10 Americans (92%) have a favorable view of apprenticeships, with more than 6 in 10 (62%) saying that apprenticeships make people more employable than going to college. More than two-thirds of Gen Z high schoolers say their ideal post-high school learning should be on the job, through internships or apprenticeships. Only a third say their ideal learning would be only through coursework.

High school (HS) apprenticeship programs combine work-based, on-the-job learning, with relevant technical education in the classroom. Students who participate in these programs graduate with a high school diploma, college credits and industry credentials. HS apprenticeships benefit businesses as well by providing a fresh source of talent developed from within their community. Apprenticeship programs largely succeed in preparing individuals for rewarding employment. For example, one study of registered apprenticeships shows that workers can earn $240,000 more over their lifetime — $300,000 when including benefits — by participating in a program.

Another study documents how states are creating new pre-apprenticeship programs as short as one to three weeks, or up to eight weeks, to introduce a more diverse pool of traditionally underrepresented groups to apprenticeships. Some states are also experimenting with high school programs for as long as two years.

According to a 2022 study from the American Apprenticeship Initiative Evaluation, of the 68 employers surveyed, 96% cited improved company culture as a benefit, and more than 90% reported that their apprenticeship programs led to improvements in their talent pipelines and increased employee loyalty.

Future for Youth Apprenticeship

In most states like Virginia, the Youth Registered Apprenticeship programs are still evolving in response to the needs of students, employers, and partners. Youth apprenticeship programs exist at the intersection of education and workforce development, serving young people and employers by connecting the learning needs of youth with the talent and skill needs of industry. To scale these high-quality programs, states must make key system design decisions that promote alignment between partners, define roles and responsibilities, and provide students and other key stakeholders with transparency in what can often be a confusing and duplicative landscape.

Apprenticeships are the new gold standard, states Harry Moser, Founder/President, the Reshoring Initiative. “All countries, even Germany, are having problems attracting and training skilled workforces. The U.S. will bring back from offshore millions of manufacturing jobs when its apprenticeship system goes from being a laggard to a world leader.”

Now is the time to recommit the nation to expanding more new-collar career pathways into the middle class through apprenticeships and other skills-based programs.

Editor’s note:

Here are a couple of resources to help schools, organizations, and communities inspire young people to consider the value of employable skills and the rewarding career opportunities offered in the 4.0 Industrial and Digital economy:

The SkillsUSA Championships is the premier showcase of America’s most highly skilled career and technical education students. It’s also one of the largest hands-on workforce development events in the world. Held in conjunction with SkillsUSA’s National Leadership & Skills Conference each June, this awe-inspiring event features more than 6,000 state champions from across the United States competing head-to-head in 115 skilled and leadership competitions.

The Edge Factor provides an e-learning platform for students in grade 7-12 and jobseekers to go on a career journey. Using the power of storytelling, Edge Factor’s videos and activities inspire people to pursue skilled trades, provide tools to explore careers, prepare for the workforce with STEAM & Soft Skills, & connect with their community.

Glenn Marshall, the Association for Manufacturing Excellence (AME) leads an initiative for a “Manufacturing and Educational Renaissance,” member of the Reshoring Initiative, Job Creators Network, and Industry Reimagined 2030. Contact Glenn Marshall and

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