Industry and education leaders should work together to support apprenticeships and other work-based learning for young people, according to Scott Stump, assistant secretary for career, technical and adult education at the U.S. Education Department.
Stump, who hosted a panel discussion Tuesday on workforce training programs for youths, said youth participation in the labor market is at the lowest point ever. Only 35% of youths age 16 to 19 are employed, and only 29% worked during the summer.
Rethink hiring practices
Stump urged educators and employers to leverage the work-based learning provisions in the 2018 Strengthening Career and Technical Education Act (known as Perkins V) to provide jobs for youths.
U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos touted Perkins V for promoting alignment among career and technical education (CTE) programs and community workforce organizations to encourage the development of apprenticeships, job shadowing and other on-the-job learning opportunities.
“There are too many disconnects between education and the economy,” said DeVos, who noted that there were more than 7 million unfilled jobs in the U.S. before the pandemic.
“Why is CTE siloed and not just considered education?” DeVos added. “CTE is just as valid and important as any other pursuit of study.”
The secretary called upon employers to rethink their hiring practices and “make sure job postings reflect what the position actually requires.”
“A degree might not be necessary,” DeVos said in urging businesses and education leaders to stop promoting the message that “expensive four-year degrees are the avenue for success.”
A successful career doesn’t necessarily require a four-year college degree that leaves people with crushing debt, agreed U.S. Labor Secretary Eugene Scalia.
Support for apprenticeships
School is one place that prepares young people for successful careers but much education also happens in the workplace, Scalia said. CTE, work-based learning, certification programs and other training can all lead to a successful career, sometimes connected with a degree, sometimes not, he said.
Scalia touted apprenticeships that offer paid jobs along with classroom instruction. He cited the Kentucky Federation for Advanced Manufacturing Education (KY FAME), a partnership of regional manufacturers that develops apprenticeships leading to career pathways for highly skilled workers.
According to Scalia, five years after completing a KY FAME apprenticeship, workers earned nearly $100,000 a year. That is more than the earnings of graduates of CTE programs in community colleges that were not part of KY FAME, he said.
Scalia gave an example of a young man in North Carolina with a 4.2 grade point average who decided to participate in an apprenticeship program instead of going to college and had become a homeowner by age 21. His employer started a consortium of community colleges to provide classroom training in support of apprenticeships.
Sometimes an apprenticeship makes it easier to earn a degree later, if employers offer tuition benefits, Scalia said.
Industry takes the lead
Employers frustrated with the education system are taking on more responsibility themselves for educating young people, Scalia said.
“I have the most confidence in programs the business community develops,” he said.
The secretary cited the industry-recognized apprenticeship program (IRAP) launched by DOL this year, which lets industry groups take the lead in setting standards and gives businesses the flexibility to tailor apprenticeships to meet their needs.
“We took a chance with young people, and it’s worked out well for us,” said Jon Dougherty, education director at Amteck, an electrical contracting company. Some apprentices who started working in high school now have leadership roles at the company.
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Robert Trevino, workforce development manager at Gulf States Toyota, said he relies on work-based learning to build a “sustainable pipeline of talent.”
Apprenticeships learn there is more to auto technology than turning a wrench, as they get a feel for the environment, culture and career opportunities at dealerships, Trevino said. One dealership in Oklahoma hired high school students, supported them in community college, and brought them back after they completed their education.
More than technical skills
“The war for talent is real,” said Johnny Taylor, president and CEO of the Society of Human Resource Management (SHRM). Four out of five human resources professionals say it is hard to find qualified employers, he said.
Even when people apply for jobs, they often don’t have the skills needed, Taylor said. Too many young people, even with college degrees, have never worked. As a result, they don’t know the importance of being punctual or have the other non-technical skills employers need, such as dependability, reliability and adaptability, he said. To overcome those deficits, SHRM launched a campaign to “restore dignity to the first job.”
Telling high school students to focus on their studies instead of working is the wrong message, Taylor said. Employers want youths with work-based learning experiences.
A young person working at a Burger King when the electricity goes out, for example, needs how to figure out another way to handle payments, Taylor noted. That’s why critical-thinking and decision-making skills are important.
Duncan Hale, a 17-year-old high school senior in Colorado, echoed the importance of early work experience. He is forgoing college to be a machinist apprentice at Reata Engineering. He is learning to use computer numerical controls to fashion aluminum and steel into everything from airplane parts to calendar holders.
He plans to stay with the company for a few more years then earn a degree in aerospace engineering.
“It’s possible to do both,” he said.