Blog right triangle Employers – want to have a wildly successful youth apprenticeship program?
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Employers – want to have a wildly successful youth apprenticeship program?

CareerWise provides consulting, technical assistance, and technology support to 300+ employers in six regions through six affiliates and partners embarking on youth apprenticeship across the country.  Drawing from experience in Colorado, our network has evolved to include insights from multiple partners across the nation.  

In a recent series of interviews with eight employers managing substantial cohorts (10-50/per cohort) of youth and young adult apprentices, CareerWise identified keys to success and insights employers wished they had known beforehand. Discover what works, what doesn’t, and how CareerWise can help tailor our model to your community’s needs within the broader educational, economic, and political context. Discover five promising practices for implementing youth apprenticeship based on the expertise of key CareerWise employer partners.

Five “must do’s” for employers to have a successful youth apprenticeship program

Garner company wide, and company deep, buy-in

Employers universally agreed that buy-in for hiring youth needs to be cultivated and communicated at all levels of the organization, and over time (not just at the beginning).  C-Suite, human resources, learning and development, department heads with talent needs, and most of all, potential supervisors, should know about the employer’s “why” for hiring youth as well as how the program works.  Ongoing communication throughout the apprenticeship journey is key to sustaining the program and, ultimately, getting the return on investment that employers are looking for through converting their apprentices into full time employees. Companies who skip this step, or volun-tell supervisors,have lower apprentice retention and conversion rates.

Designate internal capacity to manage youth apprenticeship

Employers who participated in our research interviews highly recommend building strong internal capacity to manage program details, especially if employers are onboarding larger youth apprentice cohorts (10+) at a time.  Ideally, this person would have experience working with youth development and program management.  Employers who didn’t do this from the start eventually ended up hiring a part-time person (if not a small staff, depending on apprentice cohort sizes), focused on program management, to ensure more successful outcomes for apprentices, and therefore, maximize return on investment for their organization.

Provide supervisors with choice, support, and training for success in working with youth 

Across the board, employers endorsed choosing motivated supervisors who WANT to participate, WANT to mentor and train a young person, and WANT to hone their skills as a manager.  Supervisors who were “assigned” a youth apprentice, who had little to no say in the process or interviewing the candidates they might work with, were often unhappy and did not provide apprentices with the highest quality training or mentoring – which directly correlated to poor apprentice retention and conversion.  Interviewed employers realized, often in hindsight , that even experienced supervisors want and need different training and resources in order to be most effective with youth.  Recommendations include providing youth development training both before and during the apprenticeship, as well as setting up supervisor peer groups to leverage and share learnings, struggles across departments, companies and industries.  

Map and scaffold apprentice related technical instruction (RTI) and training before hiring

Employers in the CareerWise network and beyond collaborate with key education and training providers and subject matter experts to identify necessary internal and external training needed to quickly upskill youth. This training map helps bridge the skill gap between high school learning and becoming an entry level employee before hired apprentices start work, allowing a clear roadmap to follow. Some employers adapt existing internal training for adults and slow it down for youth. Other employers partner with local community colleges to create front-loaded, occupation-specific, stackable one-year certificates or two-year associate degrees that directly relate to industry occupations. 

Anticipate potential structural, procedural and cultural changes

Adding youth who have little to no previous professional work experience to an adult-oriented organization can be a big change for everyone – not just apprentices’ direct supervisors.  Embrace a growth mindset around potentially adapting current policies and procedures to accommodate part-time youth employees as well as creating new structures such as apprentice peer groups to boost apprentice success and retention.  

Hiring motivated high school students can be a shot of youthful energy and motivation for a supervisor, a team, a department and even an entire organization, if approached with strategic thinking and tips from experienced employers.

Set your organization up for success as it implements youth apprenticeship by following these recommendations from employers like you!