Advancing Youth Apprenticeship in Indiana

By New America – Published May 2021 by New AmericaSubscribe to the WFMonitor eNewsletter

New America defines youth apprenticeships as “a structured work-based learning program designed to start in high school that combines paid employment, on-the-job learning, and related classroom-based instruction leading to postsecondary credentials and credit.” In Indiana, high interest in youth apprenticeships from leaders of public institutions and private industry has led to the need for standardized youth apprenticeship models. In this report, New America proposes state policy tools and employer/education provider engagement strategies necessary for building a statewide apprenticeship model capable of aligning course design with industry labor needs and providing high school students with accredited, portable competencies for well-paying careers.  

Background on U.S. Apprenticeships
Currently in the U.S., apprenticeship programs are generally limited to a small number of industries and disconnected from the K-12, higher education, and workforce development systems. According to the United States Department of Labor, there are approximately 500,000 active apprentices, with most of them being in the construction and skilled trades. In addition, “the average age of a registered apprentice remains closer to 30 than 18 years old, and by and large, programs tend to function independently of K-12, higher education, and workforce development systems.” This approach differs from large-scale “dual system” (classroom and work-based learning) apprenticeships implemented in Germany and Switzerland. Both countries “transition over half of their high school aged students to postsecondary education and into the workforce across a broad range of industries and fields that include advanced manufacturing, finance, IT, and healthcare.” To achieve an education system capable of placing a large youth population into appropriate career pathways, these countries provide private firms across industry sectors “a cost-effective and sustainable talent pipeline,” prompting co-investment between public and private sectors. 

Roles of Industry/Business Groups, Employers, and Education Providers in an Apprenticeship Program
For youth apprenticeships to facilitate positive ROI and labor outcomes, there must be a high level of coordination between partners. Further, each partner has a specific role to fulfill in the creation and sustainability of an apprenticeship program:

  • Industry and business groups: Operate with collaborative workforce boards to develop “competency standards for in-demand occupations valued by firms and education institutions statewide.” 
  • Employers: Hire apprentices “to ensure a sustainable pipeline of workers with flexible skills and in-demand credentials.” 
  • High Schools: Provide students with foundational knowledge/skills that are combined and applied to technical postsecondary coursework. 
  • Colleges: Work with industry leaders to “formally recognize, assess, and credential learning that happens outside the classroom.” 

Large-scale youth apprenticeship partnerships expand access to well-paying jobs for young people, especially during economic recessions. Research supports that “nations with these systems in place did not experience historically high levels of youth unemployment or disconnection from education in past recessions.” Also, for businesses, youth apprentices may help to “speed [economic] recovery by reducing recruitment and training costs.” 

Benefits of Youth Apprenticeships for Employers:

  • Productivity: Apprentices contribute meaningful work and are “hired at a cost savings.” 
  • Reduced Retirement Costs: Apprenticeships create a reliable recruitment pipeline of young workers with defined skills and competencies. 
  • Motivated Employees: As a contributing member of a company team, peers and mentors are engaged with apprentices to support their development and growth. 
  • Talent Development: “Employers can retain and hire apprentices full time: at a time when over 70 percent of college graduates plan on leaving their job within the first three years, youth apprentices demonstrate an 89 percent three-year retention rate.” 

Industry Engagement and Youth Apprenticeship Development in Indiana
In April of 2019, the Fairbanks Foundation awarded a grant to New America facilitating a “12-month planning process to help shape a youth apprenticeship strategy for Indiana. The program development was implemented over three phases: 

  1. Stakeholder Engagement: Through in-person meetings, representatives shared insights on how their organization could connect with a youth apprenticeship program. An open forum helped representatives discuss potential barriers to a statewide model in Indiana. 
  2. Capacity Building: Guest speakers from other states and regions across the U.S. shared design strategies for implementing youth apprenticeship initiatives. In addition, a planning team formed a delegation that participated in the CEMETS Summer Institute in Zurich to learn about the Swiss dual enrollment education system. 
  3. Regional Piloting & Systems Alignment Strategy: Through in-person and virtual meetings, the planning team created a piloting and systems alignment strategy based on regional needs and priorities. Ursula Renold, the head of Research Division at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, provided remarks to the Economic Club of Indiana to kick off this phase. 

Over the three phases of development, leaders gleaned key takeaways on how to create sustainable youth apprentice programs in Indiana. First, “a single, centralized statewide intermediary is neither desirable nor realistic across Indiana’s diverse regions.” Due to the distinct economic needs and identities of Indiana’s regions, “youth apprenticeships there will be best built upon the extensive landscape of existing state and regional organizations.” Second, although a single system is not amenable, Indiana needs to use coordinated planning between diverse communities to pilot and run apprenticeships that are “aligned with a vision, program definition, and policy guided by state partners.” This strategy will make new apprenticeship start-ups more efficient across regions and ensure students will earn industry-recognized skills and competencies. Third, Indiana’s youth apprenticeship model will require continued investment from the private sector and philanthropy to be sustainable. For a statewide apprenticeship strategy, standardized coordination, dedicated capacity, and accountability at multiple levels is required. Investment in organizations that “sit at the intersection of business and education, and are well positioned to play a key role in apprenticeship start-up and growth,” is imperative for actionability and sustainability. 

Indiana’s Four System Building Priorities
For the creation of high-quality youth apprenticeships, programs must be actionable, multi-sector, multi-dimensional, simultaneous, and connected. New America outlined four priorities for building a system in Indiana that exemplifies these traits: 

  • Establish a Network of Aligned Proof of Concept Pilots: State talent development programs like the 21st Century Talent Regions Initiative and the Indiana Talent Network “offer a framework and support for the development and implementation of comprehensive regional strategies.” These programs aid in the creation of proof of concept pilots and connects them through a network that “supports solutions for scale, consistent data, and coordinated engagement of state leadership.” Particularly, in Indiana, there is an “rural and urban divide in the state with regard to a statewide strategy for youth apprenticeships.” Regional organization networks are critical in bridging this divide and implementing youth apprenticeships that are flexible enough to be effective in a variety of economic and learning contexts. 
  • Policy and Guidance from State Partners: State policy helps ensure that students are receiving a combination of paid work-based learning and postsecondary instruction that provides them with industry-recognized competencies and opportunities for further accredited degrees and credentials. Organizations like the Office of Work-Based Learning and Apprenticeship “can offer cross-agency guidance, technical assistance and a flexible quality framework for program development.” Also, the formation of a subcommittee within the Governor’s Workforce Cabinet, made of statewide industry association associations/groups and regional leaders of youth apprenticeship pilot projects, can advise on the “action and research needed to advance specific system building priorities.” Finally, interagency policy guidance that clarifies the definition for youth apprenticeship, clarifies youth employment and liability obligations/regulations for employers & intermediaries, emphasizes investment on credit-bearing instruction, and initiates a statewide assessment for equity of access can promote high quality apprenticeships. 
  • Advancing Key Enabling Environment: Barriers to access at a systemic level like mandatory coursework or GPA may deny students career opportunities. Planning teams need to evaluate mandatory policies to determine if they are of any use. In addition, planning teams are recommended to “link youth apprenticeship to broader work-based learning and career exposure efforts to support the goals of equity and scale.” 
  • Establish Statewide Employer Leadership: Industry organizations, CEOs, and c-suite executives need to work with pilot network programs by “engaging peer industry leaders to participate in youth apprenticeship, advocating for youth apprenticeship with state-level counterparts, defining success for the pilot network and monitoring progress related to near- and long-term outcomes, including return on investment.” 

The State-Regional Feedback Loop
For creating sustainable programs that align curriculum with employer labor needs, continual engagement between partners is necessary. See New America’s paradigm for an industry and government program development feedback loop.  Furthermore, New America collected opinions from Indiana partners over the course of the 12-month youth apprenticeship development process. Here is a brief overview of their reflections on what an ideal statewide youth apprenticeship model would look like:

  • The private sector is responsible for identifying “critical occupational needs, defining and validating related competencies and credentials and putting processes in place to seek authorization through education and workforce systems.”
  • Youth apprentices “are guaranteed that competencies built on the job and in the classroom are recognized by employers statewide, and they earn a standard baseline of transferable college credit that helps them achieve advanced standing in degree programs.” 
  • High school students can enroll in apprenticeships across a range of fields. 
  • Career counseling is available to students and their parents from middle school through high school. Work-based learning and career exposure opportunities are equally accessible to all students. 
  • School instructors and administration are engaged with “local intermediaries in the annual cycle of apprenticeship exposure, and recruitment.”
  • Data is available on program performance, “which is integrated into the state’s education and workforce data systems to produce reports on the effectiveness of the model for supporting education and labor market outcomes across race, gender, income, and region.” 
  • “A clear program and intermediary financing model leverages public investment for postsecondary technical coursework and a sustainable shared private investment model helps employers support intermediary services.” 

Subscribe to the Workforce Monitor eNewsletter to receive weekly briefs on Credentials and the Future of Work.