Allison Gerber, Senior Associate, Annie E. Casey Foundation
The Annie E. Casey Foundation is a private philanthropy that creates a brighter future for the nation’s children by developing solutions to strengthen families; build paths to economic opportunity; and transform struggling communities into safer and healthier places to live, work, and grow. To these ends, the foundation awards grants and forges partnerships to help increase opportunities for low-income families, reduce the number of children growing up in poverty, and ensure that parents and their children are on a path to financial stability.
Allison Gerber, a senior associate at the foundation, oversees employment-related investments that promote collaborative approaches to improving job opportunities for low-income families. In the following Cascade interview, she answered several questions about “learn and earn” and “demand-driven” strategies.
We believe learn and earn strategies, including apprenticeships, and demand-driven strategies are effective for all youth and young adults. Although we focus on increasing opportunities for youth and young adults in low-income families or with limited access to employment, we need to develop multiple pathways for young people to get jobs and build careers using a combination of education, training, and supportive services. To thrive, all young people should have a network to tap into, including strong relationships with supportive adults and connections with jobs and employers.
For more than 20 years, the foundation has supported employer-led, or demand-driven, strategies, which involve forming partnerships with businesses to identify employment opportunities and help people of all ages obtain the knowledge and skills necessary to get and keep good jobs in their regional economies. Many of these strategies incorporate OJT opportunities. We promote demand-driven approaches through the National Fund for Workforce Solutions, which supports regional collaboratives made up of employers and local workforce development providers, and through employer-led initiatives in health care and other investments in Baltimore and throughout the country. Young people who are 18 and older have certainly been included but were not the sole focus.
Recent efforts to tailor existing demand-driven workforce development strategies to serve young adults, as well as other investments in employment and training programs targeted toward youth who are not in school or working, have taught us that industry partnerships can be effective in helping young adults find jobs. These strategies differ from many existing youth employment approaches, which have limited knowledge about how to connect with employers, meet their needs, and develop strategies that connect with young people. However, we’ve also learned that much of the existing demand-driven programming isn’t well equipped to provide the more intensive support services that young adults may need as they transition to work.
Given these challenges, the foundation has launched a new young adult employment initiative, Generation Work,1 which will support local partnerships that promote combining demand-side strategies with positive youth development support services, such as mentoring and work-based learning. Through this eight-year initiative, we seek to scale these strategies in four sites by helping workforce systems and practitioners build stronger connections to employers and serve as networks for young people seeking employment. The foundation recently invited a small group of local partnerships to submit proposals for this initiative and will make selections later this year.
Over the past year, we have been asking several questions: What would it take to see more uptake of apprenticeship in the United States? And what might be the role of foundations, including the Annie E. Casey Foundation, in promoting apprenticeship? Central to these questions are what employers see as some of the opportunities and challenges around apprenticeship and how we can build a field of practice that addresses some of these challenges.
We are not the only ones asking these questions. There have been increasing interest and investment in apprenticeships in the past year, including a $175 million national funding competition and a White House call to double the number of apprentices. However, we have also seen relatively modest growth in apprenticeship following the Great Recession.
We have identified four strategies to further explore and employ to better support apprenticeship: (1) building the case for employer participation, (2) connecting youth and young adults with apprenticeship programs, (3) better aligning state and local workforce development and apprenticeship programs, and (4) documenting and disseminating best practices to promote uptake of apprenticeship.
Through recent investments, we’ve sought answers to these questions to better understand why employers may be hesitant to develop or expand apprenticeship opportunities within their companies. Some examples include the following:
We believe these investments could build knowledge of and evidence for the power of approaches that encourage and increase employer participation in apprenticeships and connect low-income individuals and families to such opportunities. In addition, they are helping to inform the ways in which the foundation can support increased use of and access to apprenticeships.
Based on some of the early research that’s been done, common barriers for employers seem to include a lack of knowledge about how to develop or deliver an apprenticeship, the cost of creating and running an apprenticeship, and concerns about bureaucracy associated with registering an apprenticeship with the state or federal government.
Despite some of the challenges, we are hearing that employers value work experience, even for entry-level positions. Research on the return on investment to European firms shows that apprenticeship can help employers reduce costs related to recruitment, retention, productivity, and safety. According to one study,5 because apprentices are productive employees during their training periods, companies frequently recoup training costs during apprenticeships or soon thereafter. Still, the results vary considerably, and we have limited evidence on the return on investment for apprentices in the U.S. Having such evidence would help make a stronger case to U.S. businesses to consider adding apprenticeships, especially businesses outside the skilled trades, which currently offer the vast majority of apprenticeships. Apprenticeships may also help businesses diversify their entry-level candidate pool and develop an internal process for succession planning.
The state of today’s labor market may offer new opportunities to engage employers in developing apprenticeship and other learn and earn programs. Employers say they still struggle to find workers with the right set of skills, but they may not see it as their role to work with traditional education systems to help students develop the skills needed to succeed in the labor market. Apprenticeship provides a path forward that combines work with structured learning opportunities.
The companies that have successfully implemented apprenticeships share a few common factors, including reliance on intermediaries that streamlined the design and registration processes, availability of an existing curriculum and instructional resources, and exposure to peers also using apprenticeship programs.
Pre-apprenticeship programs are typically pre-employment training opportunities that prepare job seekers for employment in a particular industry. They seem to be most common in the construction sector. The objective of these programs is to prepare individuals for entry into apprenticeships, although they often place people in a range of other employment opportunities as well.
Pre-apprenticeship programs can vary widely in terms of the job seekers they serve, the structure of the programming provided, and the institutional home. In different regional labor markets, community-based organizations, community and technical colleges, high schools, and chambers of commerce have organized such programs. The quality of these programs in terms of preparing job seekers for apprenticeships also varies considerably.
However, pre-apprenticeships can provide potential apprentices, including youth and young adults, with structured career exposure opportunities, including hands-on learning; help for the development of literacy, numeracy, and industry-specific skills; and access to an apprenticeship that might not otherwise be available.
From 2009 to 2012, the foundation supported the Aspen Institute’s research6 on the role pre-apprenticeship programs play in preparing low-income, disadvantaged adults for careers in construction. The publications resulting from this work are good resources for learning more about pre-apprenticeship.