Using Data to Advance Youth Apprenticeship in Washington State

This is the first blog in a series published in partnership with New America through the Partnership to Advance Youth Apprenticeship (PAYA). The blog series will highlight how PAYA network sites are using data to improve youth apprenticeship quality and equity. 

Youth apprenticeship programs provide high school learners with foundational skills and knowledge in various industries. As youth apprentices, learners become employees with a company where they can apply knowledge from their Career Technical Education (CTE) program in a real-world setting. Youth apprenticeship can also give young learners an advantage as the hours learners spend on the job and in related technical instruction lead to an industry-recognized credential or can be applied to an associate degree program. 

Given how invaluable youth apprenticeship programs are, it is important to have data to understand how programs are structured to ensure they are high quality and ensure equitable access and success. The Aerospace Joint Apprenticeship Committee (AJAC) youth apprenticeship program in Washington State is an example of a program that effectively leverages data to advance equity. 

AJAC’s Expansion into Youth Apprenticeship in Washington State

The Aerospace Joint Apprenticeship Committee supports Washington State’s aerospace and advanced manufacturing industries as an intermediary, providing training and connecting workers to career opportunities. AJAC was founded in 2008 as a public-private partnership between the state of Washington and the Machinists 751 union with an initial focus on developing the adult workforce through Registered Apprenticeship. Through partnerships with nearly 300 employers and the Washington State Community and Technical College system, AJAC provides 2,000 hours of instructional training leading apprentices to journey-level certification as a master tradesperson. Apprentices can take their certification directly into the workforce or build on their credentials and earn an associate or bachelor’s degree.

In 2017, AJAC expanded its apprenticeship program to include high school learners 16-18 years of age. This expansion was brought on for two reasons. First, high school CTE programs in Washington State expressed interest in apprenticeship opportunities for their students. Second, employer partners were interested in recruiting younger workers and creating a talent pipeline. With the support of Governor Jay Inslee and the Washington Department of Labor and Industries, AJAC received a federal state apprenticeship expansion grant to pilot a youth apprenticeship program.

AJAC’s program targets high school students at the end of their sophomore or beginning of their junior years and recruits them into one-year youth apprenticeships designed to provide an entry-level foundation into the machining and industrial maintenance industries. Depending on the school district, students can participate in the youth apprenticeship as an after-school program where they split their time between working at the employer site or attending instructional courses for 10-15 hours per week. Some school districts integrate the youth apprenticeship into the school day, leveraging Washington State’s area technical centers, known in the state as Regional Skills Centers. The learner attends their home school for part of the day and either reports to their employer site or their designated Regional Skills Center to complete their instructional courses for the other half of the day.

AJAC’s Use of Data to Advance Equity

Data is important to AJAC’s commitment to equity. AJAC tracks a number of youth apprenticeship metrics in an effort to diversify the aerospace industry, which is overwhelmingly White and male. Since its inception in 2017, AJAC has enrolled over 225 youth apprentices with roughly 10 percent identifying as female and 35 percent as learners of color. 

One strategy AJAC is using to diversify participating youth apprentices is to develop inclusive marketing materials and provide platforms for apprentices from traditionally underrepresented backgrounds to represent AJAC at conferences and other public events. Another strategy is to leverage partnerships with urban and rural school districts and community-based organizations who work with youth of color, opportunity youth and justice-involved youth.

Recognizing that recruitment alone is not enough, AJAC wants to ultimately leverage data to better understand outcomes of youth apprentices — whether they transition into a full-time Registered Apprenticeship program, pursue postsecondary education, or continue working in another field. Additionally, AJAC hopes to leverage data to better understand how to support youth apprentices through their apprenticeship and post-apprenticeship with career coaching, mentoring and other supports.

AJAC’s Strategy to Surviving the COVID-19 Pandemic

The COVID-19 (coronavirus) pandemic has presented significant challenges for youth apprenticeship programs, and work-based learning overall. For AJAC, the coronavirus pandemic exacerbated an already existing problem. Many of AJAC’s employer partners are part of the aerospace supply chain for major aerospace companies such as Boeing, which was in the midst of production issues resulting from several high-profile mechanical malfunctions of its 737 MAX aircraft. This disruption to the supply chain plus the coronavirus pandemic had a devastating impact on AJAC’s recruitment of employer partners and apprentices. Many youth apprentices were laid off.

To address shifting labor market demands, AJAC transitioned to engaging new employer partners in order to place youth apprentices in the food and beverage manufacturing industry, which was considered essential during the pandemic. AJAC also surveyed its youth apprentices and instructors to identify the best approaches to offering online learning and ensure that learners stayed on track to complete their programs. Based on feedback from instructors and subject matter experts, AJAC identified courses that could be converted to virtual learning platforms. Courses that could not be taught virtually or required a lab component were put on hold until learners could safely meet again in person. As part of its virtual learning strategy, AJAC mailed over 150 kits to youth apprentices that contained hand tools and other materials. Students could then follow along with the instructor through an online video platform.

Through survey data, AJAC found that many youth apprentices discovered several benefits to online learning such as reduced travel times and costs for transportation and parking, increased flexibility to learn at their own pace, increased on-time attendance, reduced test taking anxiety, greater opportunity for one-on-one meetings with instructors, and 24/7 access to PowerPoints and other course materials. 

AJAC’s Success Evidence of Demand for Youth Apprenticeships

Data can be important in demonstrating the value of high-quality youth apprenticeship programs leading to positive outcomes for employers and equitable outcomes for youth. Over three years time, AJAC reports a nearly 500% growth in the number of youth apprentices, demonstrating the demand from young learners for opportunities to connect classroom learning to hands-on, real-world work experiences. AJAC’s success to date also demonstrates that, despite some skepticism, young apprentices can be valuable additions to a company. 

For additional resources on data and accountability,  access and equity, work-based learning, or area technical centers please visit Advance CTE’s Learning that Works Resource Center.

Brian Robinson, Policy Associate


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