There’s an “elephant” hiding in plain sight within the growing ecosystem of education and workforce training programs. While practitioners and funders strive to be data-driven and evidence-based, generating insights on program performance robust enough to inform major decisions around investment, replication and scale ideally require knowing how participants fare long after completion. Gathering program data is challenging as it is – maintaining a consistent flow of information from participants for years after they exit requires resources many organizations don’t have. Unsurprisingly, then, only 3% of 316 organizations that are “helping young people access ‘postsecondary education and work experience needed to access upwardly mobile careers’” track long-run career progression, according to the Harvard Project on Workforce’s “Working to Learn” report. Of the 3%, none measured learning as a factor in career progression beyond completion.
Completion cannot be the only metric by which the growing “education and employment sector” measures success. If our aim is for students to thrive in paths of their choosing, completion status tells an incomplete story about the choices a learner has made and where those choices will take them. For this reason, CareerWise was thrilled to have its first opportunity to learn about alumni employment and education outcomes. At the end of 2022, we were included in an alumni study led by Delivery Associates, Bloomberg Philanthropies’ evaluation partner. The study found that CareerWise Colorado alumni have achieved high job and college entry rates and appear to earn more, on average, than peers. It also highlights the need for continued vigilance around easily replicated patterns of occupational segregation.
In fall 2022, Delivery Associates sent a survey to 135 individuals who completed CareerWise Colorado apprenticeships between 2020-2022, yielding a 51% response rate.
In the year following program completion, 98% of survey respondents got a job or enrolled in postsecondary education. Respondents most commonly entered jobs in the year after completion (48%) or got a job and entered into or continued with post-secondary education (35%). A smaller group chose to focus solely on higher education (15%). 78% of respondents shared that their job is related to their apprenticeship training pathway.
These outcomes are partly explained by the industry participants trained in; rates of entering both work and further education were higher among respondents who completed business and IT apprenticeships than for those who completed apprenticeships in manufacturing. Rates of entering solely into higher education were lowest among IT apprentices. Understanding how differing industry dynamics (e.g. whether higher education is required or helpful for progression) intersect with completing apprentices’ next steps will help us tailor program design and messaging to ensure participants choose to apply for opportunities that align with their aspirations.
Encouragingly, the survey indicated that CareerWise Colorado alumni earn, on average, $5.60 (or 29%) more than the median hourly wage for householders in the state under 25 years old (the average survey respondent wage was $24.60). While $24.60/hour is not sufficient to sustain a household of two adults and a child in Colorado (estimated to require at least $31/hour), most survey respondents are earning at least a living wage for one adult.
Delivery Associates’ research also found that male alumni have higher job placement rates and hourly wages, while female alumni are going to college at higher rates, findings that align with national patterns around wage discrimination and gendered trends in college enrollment. Industry, again, plays a role here – male alumni were enrolled in IT, the industry pathway with the highest average wages, at much higher rates than were female alumni. Yet, female alumni in IT still earned lower wages than their male counterparts in IT. White participants had the highest job entry rates (90% vs. 82% for Hispanic respondents, 86% for those identifying with two or more races, and 33% among Asian/Pacific Islander respondents). Hispanic respondents had lower college-going rates (41%) compared with white respondents (52%), individuals identifying with two or more races (57%) and Asian/Pacific Islanders (50%).
In interpreting these findings, we take into account small numbers of survey respondents in each disaggregated category, the potential presence of non-response bias despite a high response rate, and the reality that responses rely on participants’ recall of past events. We also take into account the knowledge that CareerWise youth apprenticeship operates within local and national structures of systematic bias and racism. The findings reinforce our mandate to embed equity in every design consideration in service of mediating, if not removing, systemic bias. The survey suggests the need to intentionally conduct outreach to female applicants around higher wage, higher growth opportunities and to support apprentices of color in identifying and securing post-apprenticeship plans.
We are grateful to Bloomberg Philanthropies and Delivery Associates for the opportunity to participate in this study and look forward to expanding participation across the CareerWise network this fall. Understanding what completing apprentices go on to do is only part of the picture, of course, and in the future, we aim to follow up with early exiters. For now, this survey represents an important milestone in our evaluation practice and provides another point of confirmation of the broad premise that CareerWise youth apprenticeship prepares students to enter directly into education, employment or both.