Q&A with Ascend: The How and Why of Modern Youth Apprenticeship as a System

More than 100 Indiana leaders, part of the CEMETS iLab Indiana coalition, are developing a statewide modern youth apprenticeship system in Indiana as a potential solution to the state’s mounting workforce crisis. The progress of iLab, led by the Richard M. Fairbanks Foundation and supported by Ascend Indiana and the Indy Chamber, was at the center of recent testimony before the U.S. Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions as an initiative for scaling a statewide modern youth apprenticeship system in Indiana.

Since January, iLab stakeholders have convened to develop a strategic plan and have traveled to Switzerland, a global leader in creating a modern youth apprenticeship system, to learn best practices.

Read our Q&A with Erica Viar, Vice President of Consulting at Ascend Indiana, to learn more about modern youth apprenticeship as a system and Indiana’s approach.

Q&A with Erica Viar, Vice President of Consulting, Ascend Indiana

What is modern youth apprenticeship as a system?

The modern youth apprenticeship model is an incredible opportunity for high school students to have a robust learning experience while exploring the kind of career pathways they want, or understanding what they don’t want. The model allows high school students to participate in a three-year, paid apprenticeship experience, typically beginning in the 11th grade. The apprenticeship culminates in a high school diploma, college credit and an industry credential, while at the same time preparing students for in-demand careers. These experiences occur across a wide variety of industries including healthcare, insurance, business services, advanced manufacturing, and more.

Many Hoosier high school students graduate without a plan, this gives them opportunities to plan for what is next whether it’s college or starting their career. At the end of the apprenticeship, students have options and are equipped with industry credentials and postsecondary credits to set them up for the future.

Why is it important to have a statewide modern youth apprenticeship system?

By 2031, 72% of U.S. jobs will require postsecondary education and/or training. Indiana is not on track to meet that demand. Only 39% of Hoosier adults 25 years or over have an associate degree or higher. Right now, our system is only serving about 25% of high school graduates, which leaves out about 75% of our students.

CEMETS iLab Indiana is building a permeable system that will help an individual move between careers and academic instruction in a more seamless way. This provides more pathways for individuals who decide they want a different career or want to pursue more education while not starting from the beginning. It’s a mindset shift, from where we are today. In today’s world, we try to prepare students for their entire career by asking them to make some of these decisions as early as middle school. This new modern youth apprenticeship system will allow them to create different pathways to a high-quality, demand-driven career.

How are you engaging industry leaders and others to learn more about modern youth apprenticeship as a system?

The Center on Economics and Management of Education and Training Systems (CEMETS) in ETH Zurich launched CEMETS iLab in Indiana. They are considered the preeminent experts in workplace learning research and implementation and have been instrumental in creating the Swiss apprenticeship model in which 70% of students choose to participate in a youth apprenticeship and there is a culture of lifelong learning.

As part of the iLab learnings, we are taking leaders from banking and insurance, life sciences and healthcare, and advanced manufacturing on three separate trips to Switzerland to learn from industry associations, employers and apprentices about their youth apprenticeship ecosystem. The Swiss system is employer-led. By taking our industry leaders to Switzerland to see how the system works in person allows them to understand the key tenets of what this could do here in Indiana.

Indiana employers are exploring the critical role that an employer plays. Employers in Switzerland define competencies and curriculum standards through industry associations, deliver coordinated industry-based training and provide a robust apprenticeship experience. This is a shift from our system today where employers primarily host the experience.

What role do high schools and higher education play in the modern youth apprenticeship system?

High schools and higher education play a critical role in the modern youth apprenticeship system. High schools provide significant support by helping students explore opportunities, manage their schedules, while continuing to provide a strong academic foundation. As we think about the broader system, we want to lessen the burden on high schools through engagement with industry.

As for higher education, we want the modern youth apprenticeship to be a seamless transition into postsecondary for students who choose that path. Higher education partners help students who complete an apprenticeship move to postsecondary with the credits they earned from prior learning and an understanding of the degree programs that help them map their future study.

Why is it important for industry to be co-creators of talent?

For this system to work, it should start with what industry needs. It is vital that industry is part of the design process so there is a clear understanding of the talent needs and the desired training for employment and that students are developing the necessary competencies. This system is being built for all industry no matter the size of the company. For this to work, employers within industries need to collaborate to help build the system. In Indiana, our population is not growing fast enough to fill the demand for jobs, so if we don’t foster enough talent in the next generation, we will continue to lag. Employers are eager for high school students to be involved and apprenticeships are a great way to do that.

How important are local intermediaries to this system?

Local intermediaries, who provide connections and support for students and schools with employers and higher education institutions, are also critical to this effort. Intermediaries such as Ascend Indiana, EmployIndy and Regional Opportunity Initiatives (ROI) in the Indiana Uplands, have relationships with employers in their communities and know how to best solve their needs. These intermediaries are providing support to this system as we continue to build it and are important to being the connection that makes this all happen.