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Apprenticeships: Creating a Roadmap to a Career

I was a recent college graduate and felt directionless in my career. I had attempted career training programs, but nothing seemed to align with my needs, giving me skills and mentorship I could use. When my cousin told me about a career roundtable hosted by Young Invincibles here in Chicago, I was immediately interested. I had been searching for a career that would both pay a living wage and offer opportunities for growth, unlike the dead-end odd jobs that I had landed over the years. At the roundtable, I learned about a new path that could lead to my goals: apprenticeships. The more that I learned about these programs that pay participants as they receive training and are connected with mentors, the more I felt that apprenticeships could fill a career gap that many young people like myself face. This is particularly important in our home state of Illinois where youth unemployment (age 16-24)  is 14.2 percent, the second highest rate in the country.  I am excited about the apprenticeship programs launching this summer across the state and hope to see more opportunities like this in my communities. Following a career you love shouldn’t feel like a lottery, and I encourage Gov. Rauner and the IIlinois legislature to create more apprenticeship opportunities for young people like myself.

When I graduated with my associates degree, I tried joining a career advancement program in hopes of gaining networks and a mentor to help me navigate the workplace, but I ended up feeling even more insecure. My program focused solely on skill-building for electricians and was highly task-based. I felt shepherded from task to task instead of mentored to learn the skills I needed to succeed. I wasn’t encouraged to become independent and unlike with an apprenticeship, I didn’t have a mentor to work with, learn from, and view as a model for a career. I won’t become successful through learning basic skills alone. I also need to learn the skills that employers demand; a mentor who is invested in my success and who shares my interests can facilitate this growth. I don’t want to continue jumping from low-wage job to low-wage job, but rather want direction from someone who will help me learn first hand the skills I need for a career. I’m interested to learn more about my options for apprenticeships and how they match up with jobs I want to explore in software engineering or music production.

Apprenticeships provide the foundational tools and support that many young adults in my community are missing. While attending college is one route to a successful career, many college graduates and young Illinoisans who didn’t attend school enter the workforce underprepared. I’m hopeful to see that Governor Rauner has invested in expanding apprenticeship programs because the same formula for success is not working for some communities, and increasing more opportunities outside of traditional degree programs will get more young adults in our community into the workforce and on a path to success. This summer, Illinois is launching apprenticeship pilot programs across the state, creating learning opportunities in healthcare, information and technology, manufacturing, and more. These programs are a pathway out of poverty for many young Illinoisans. Apprenticeships are tool for making sure that it doesn’t always matter how you start your career journey, creating the possibility to finish strong based on the opportunities we take, and the opportunities we demand for ourselves.

Darshai Harris is a young poet and rapper from Chicago looking to begin an Information Technology Apprenticeship Program. In his free time, he likes to play video games, freestyle, and brainstorm on how to improve the world.