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Workforce Development |

Scaling Earn-and-Learn Opportunities: Transforming Career Pathways for Youth

In a recent webinar hosted by the Brookings Institution, experts delved into the importance of scaling earn-and-learn opportunities to transform career pathways for youth. 

Annelies Goger from Brookings emphasized the need to consider the continuum of work-based learning, highlighting the shift away from the traditional model of solely pursuing college education to one that integrates hands-on learning experiences. 

“The old model of just going to college and going into the workplace and not having to refresh skills is not going to work in the current way the economy works,” said Goger. “A lot of people can’t afford to go to college. If you can earn money while learning and you find other pathways into quality jobs, this creates opportunities for people who otherwise would not get access.”

The stress of providing a new pathway for workers was mirrored by Mark Tapy, Pinnacol’s senior talent management manager. He was part of the company’s launch of their youth apprentice program and has seen first hand how it helped reshape their company’s workforce and culture.

“Our company takes deep pride in our caring culture. It’s central to our mission and a key differentiator in our industry. In order to achieve our goals… I was hired to assemble a team and partner with CareerWise Colorado and our local school districts to launch a first of its kind, in our ecosystem, youth apprenticeship program serving 16- to 20-year-olds.”

Since Pinnacol’s youth apprenticeship program launched in 2017, the program has registered nine apprenticeship pathways and hired nearly 70 youth apprentices, with a majority identifying as BIPOC. Tapy highlighted the success stories of apprentices who have transitioned into roles within Pinnacol or pursued post-secondary education aligned with their apprenticeship.

Ryan Gensler, senior vice president from CareerWise USA, emphasized the importance of industry-led initiatives in addressing talent shortages and promoting local workforce development. He discussed the”Colorado paradox,” where a highly educated workforce coexists with a shortage of locally produced talent, particularly from marginalized communities. Gensler underscored the need for youth apprenticeships to bridge the gap between high school education and career, citing the international promising practices observed in Switzerland.

What Colorado is seeing with their employers is also seen elsewhere across the country. States like Alabama and Indiana have found ways to scale earn-and-learn opportunities to solve their workforce gap.

Josh Laney, Director at Alabama Office of Apprenticeship, and Marie Mackintosh, EmployIndy’s President and CEO, highlighted efforts to create accessible pathways for skill development aligned with the state’s job market needs. 

Laney emphasized the importance of expanding apprenticeship programs beyond traditional occupations to include fields like education, insurance, and healthcare. He emphasized the significance of establishing a common language and framework for apprenticeship programs to facilitate communication between stakeholders.

“Words matter,” said Laney. “If I say apprenticeship and you say apprenticeship, we need to be talking about the same thing or we’re not communicating. We came up with a common set of definitions and now we have a common language. This helps the employers, educators, and training providers to know what we’re talking about.”

Mackintosh echoed the importance of collaboration between employers, educators, and training providers in creating effective apprenticeship programs. She emphasized the need for codifying a common language and set of definitions to ensure clarity and alignment across stakeholders.

Scaling earn-and-learn opportunities through apprenticeship programs is essential for transforming career pathways and addressing talent shortages. By fostering collaboration between industry, education, and government partners, these programs can create pathways to success for youth, particularly those from underserved communities, while meeting the evolving needs of the job market.