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Apprenticeships Make Pathways from Employment Dead Ends

As Labor Day approaches, Young Invincibles wants to elevate the voices of the youngest generation in the workforce. Since the Great Recession, unemployment has steadily fallen, but young people have several hurdles to leap–18-24-year-olds still experience unemployment at the highest rates. For many graduates, this results from the experience paradox, lacking enough work experience coming out of college to start a fulfilling career. Young Invincibles’ apprenticeship research  tracks the problem and provides its solutions: apprenticeships that help students gain experience, build skills, and receive the compensation unpaid internships don’t afford. Apprenticeships help untap new talent, and make our labor force even stronger, but too few program slots exist and too many graduates lack knowledge about them.

This blog provides insight into apprenticeships and how the program can truly benefit young adults.

Many of my peers don’t want to go to college. That isn’t for a lack of interest; they simply don’t have the financial resources to finish  school, and they see the employment dead end ahead. Even if they pick up a job (or two) to afford tuition, room and board, all their textbooks, and maintain a high GPA, the chances of finding a good-paying job after graduation aren’t very high. They’ll hear the same mantra after each failed interview: “You don’t have enough experience.” Again, it isn’t for a lack of interest in their field of study. It’s because “experience” is usually gained through unpaid internships, and work without pay isn’t a luxury many of my peers can afford. That’s why I was excited to learn how Young Invincibles advocated for more pathways for students when I joined their Chicago team last year.

Young Invincible’s showed me that paid apprenticeships are a route young people can take to build experience in their career or craft while simultaneously attending school. Many students today don’t have the experience to immediately join the workforce, after high school or university; therefore, many end up being unemployed or in a low paying position. In fact, young people aged between 18 and 24 experience unemployment at double the rate of all ages nationally. Businesses that host these apprenticeship programs help students financially by paying for their school, and providing a minimum wage salary and skills through mentorship.

I interviewed a student apprentice from my high school, who showed me how his electrician program helped him become a better student with an improving work ethic and gave him the  determination to improve his future. Another apprenticeship program in Wisconsin, offers two state programs: one targeting  high school students and one for high school graduates. From all the stories that were shared, the one that stood out to me the most touch on several familiar issues–struggling with poor grades, a lack of supportive outlets, which led to constant trouble in school.   The apprentice told us how no one believed in him until someone recommended him to become part of the apprentice program. After months of training, the program helped him get his act together. He was becoming more involved in school and in his grades.

This is something I would like to see in Chicago, particularly focused on young adults of color since many of  unemployed students come from minority communities . In Illinois alone, young African Americans and Hispanics almost double and triple the unemployment rate, respectively, of their white peers.  If we had more barrier-breaking programs like this, students would see better chances of finishing school, finding a job that leads to a financially secure career, ultimately building the next generation’s economic success. I urge Congress to support national programs through the Leveraging and Energizing America’ Apprenticeships Programs (LEAP) and the Promoting Apprenticeship for Credentials and Employment  (PACE) Acts, which incentivize employers and higher education institutions respectively to create apprenticeship programs.  School may be important, but not all students have the money and time to work for free and be a student. Apprenticeships will give them the opportunity to work, study, and build pathways to meet their career goals.

Maria Reyes is a youth leader and freshman at Loyola University.