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National Apprenticeship Week: A time to reflect on equitable career pathways

This year’s National Apprenticeship Week has been particularly meaningful as the country seeks strategies for rebuilding its economy in the middle of a pandemic. Although the economic fallout from Covid-19 has left millions seeking jobs, young adults in particular have experienced high and protracted unemployment. For a generation saddled with trillions of dollars in student debt, apprenticeships’ earn-and-learn structure is a welcome strategy that policymakers should include in the suite of solutions to the current economic crisis.

Despite the troubles of the pandemic, Illinois is a leader in expanding apprenticeships for its residents. Earlier this year, Governor Pritzker announced his administration’s $4.7 million investment in apprenticeships across the state. The Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity also released a detailed report in May that outlined opportunities for increasing apprenticeships and reaching people who are underrepresented in apprenticeship programs. This report was the result of the Illinois Apprenticeship Collaborative’s advocacy to pass the Apprenticeship Study Act in 2019. Thank you to our partners and legislative champions!

One key finding of the Apprenticeship Study Act report was the emphasis on how far we have to go to make sure apprenticeships are reaching women, people of color, and young people. To address the underrepresentation, Young Invincibles and the Chicago Jobs Council released The Third Pillar of Apprenticeship. The report, which compiled lessons learned during a statewide training series on apprenticeship basics, highlighted several key strategies to increase apprenticeship opportunities and make them accessible to jobseekers who are often marginalized. Specifically, we recommended that state leaders:

  1. fund and train community-based organizations to recruit marginalized jobseekers and support their retention in apprenticeships;
  2. provide quality training to apprenticeship navigators and intermediaries;
  3. collect quality data and create regional equity targets that provide a benchmark of success for the retention of diverse apprentices.

Although many of these policy recommendations are now in the implementation phase, intentional strategies for supporting the most marginalized jobseekers are still needed. To that end, YI interviewed young adults who have experienced housing insecurity and asked about their experiences with navigating employment and housing. Based on their insight and the feedback from subject matter experts, we released Pathway to Opportunity. The report highlights key considerations that program developers and policymakers should consider when seeking to improve employment outcomes for vulnerable young adults: 

1) Housing insecure young adults need income, housing, mentorship, and academic and career preparation to succeed in career pathways like apprenticeships. A failure to connect them with these resources may leave young adults stuck in a cycle of low-wage jobs, poverty and chronic homelessness.

2) Most nonprofits agencies cannot provide all of these supports, making collaboration across providers and systems critical. Housing and workforce development initiatives are often siloed. Although recent policy initiatives have helped mitigate this division, frontline practitioners who support young adults need a tool that helps them easily identify partners and resources outside of their respective agencies. Young Invincibles created the Pathway to Stability Framework as a foundation for such collaboration.

3) Connecting young adults with the resources and opportunities that they need to thrive will require the cooperation of multiple stakeholders, including the businesses, government agencies, schools, unions, nonprofits, and philanthropic organizations. The report outlines steps that each of these groups can take to help support young adults who want to pursue apprenticeships and other career pathways.

Despite the financial challenges that we face in Illinois, our state has the opportunity to create an economy that truly works for all of its residents. Recovery efforts should prioritize young people from marginalized communities and help connect them to the resources that they need to thrive in career pathway opportunities. A failure to do so will continue the inequities that have plagued our state for too long.