Modern Youth Apprenticeships

The District could do a better job connecting its low-income youth to more career opportunities. Too many are locked out of the city’s historic economic expansion. The Federal City Council has been working to find ways to help.

The District government has been kicking into gear. DC’s Deputy Mayor for Education Paul Kihn is developing citywide career pathway maps that guide the allocation of government resources in key areas. DC Public Schools has a variety ofCareer Prep Programs to help prepare students for their next steps after graduation.

Swiss-style apprenticeships may be a good tool to add to the toolbox. Some of the most exciting career pathways best-practices involve merging high school classroom instruction with on-the-job experience. Everyone gains. Apprentices earn a wage while getting valuable workplace experience, often earning a nationally recognized industry certification and debt-free college credit. Companies benefit from investing in long-term talent they need.

Modern Youth Apprenticeships is a leading model and is most fully developed in Switzerland. The whole country participates. Roughly 70 percent of all Swiss students choose apprenticeships across 58,000 companies in 230 occupational pathways. There is no stigma attached to these apprenticeships, which often lead to real career success later on. Many Swiss CEOs started as apprentices. And investing in apprentices is a winning business proposition for Swiss companies. Their return on investment during the apprenticeship is 10 percent.

Colorado-based CareerWise is applying this Swiss model in the United States. We hosted its founder and CEO Noel Ginsburg for a meeting last Friday April 5th to discuss how the program works and whether it might be a good fit for the District.

With a little over two years under its belt, CareerWise is growing fast and has big ambitions across Colorado. It now serves 300 youth who split their time between high school, a training center and work. Occupations range from teaching and business project coordination to advanced manufacturing. By 2025, CareerWise plans to serve 20,000 students statewide. Philanthropy has stepped up to support the program with initial funds until it becomes self-sustaining. Local politicians are all on board too. There has been little political or community resistance to the program.

New York City now has a pilot CareerWise program up and running, with 80 apprentices among 14 different employers. Could the District set up its own pilot, perhaps for the fall of 2019 or 2020? It would require close collaboration between the DC school system, employers and a coordinating intermediary. Its first year might only involve a handful of apprentices and companies. The secret may be in showing those companies that this investment—like in Switzerland—is a winning business proposition.