How apprenticeship can help high school students achieve higher education and find their passion

By: Barbara Humpton, CEO, Siemens USA

In recent posts I’ve shared some puzzling economic data: While U.S. unemployment is historically low, job openings – at 7.3 million – recently hit a record high.


What does this tell us?


For one thing, I believe it tells us that America’s education and training systems struggle to keep pace with the digital transformation happening across the U.S. economy – particularly in well-paying technical fields such as manufacturing, energy, healthcare and mobility.


As the labor market continues to tighten, employers are looking for workers with the skills they need to grow their business.  That’s why it’s more important than ever that we see this time as an opportunity to open new doors for America’s young people and renew the American dream.


As we focus on this task, the question I’d like to raise is, “If we could do one thing – one thing to change the game for education and for opportunity in America – what would it be?


I think that we can change the game by introducing more Americans to training opportunities such as apprenticeships before, not after, they graduate from high school.


The average age of a U.S. high school graduate is 18.


The average age of a U.S. apprentice? 28.


And here’s why this really matters.


By 2020, two-thirds of all jobs in the U.S. economy will require education beyond high school.  Yet right now, one-third of students are not even enrolling in postsecondary education.


Meanwhile, little more than half of students pursuing college are graduating within six years.  Graduates, in turn, now share an average of more than $30,000 in student debt.


In other words, while college education is tied to success, now more than ever, the traditional pathways for attaining this education are not working well for many students, particularly those in historically disadvantaged communities.


Bringing apprenticeship into high schools puts another option on the table, one that can include college and a career.


By enrolling in high school apprenticeship programs, juniors and seniors are offered a mix of high school classes, college courses, and paid work experience with employers in high-demand industries.  They can advance their college education, get a good-paying job, and discover their passion without sacrificing their financial security.


Now, a new group of leaders who make up the Partnership to Advance Youth Apprenticeship (PAYA) is working to shine a spotlight on state- and city-led youth apprenticeship programs that can serve as models for the rest of the country.  Led by New America, PAYA is a multiyear, collaborative initiative that will help get high-quality youth apprenticeship programs off the ground and raise more awareness about their value.


As chair of the Siemens Foundation, one of PAYA’s major funders, I was invited earlier this month to join the group’s first national meeting in Charleston, South Carolina, where a strong, cooperative network has led to an astronomical rise in youth apprenticeships.


What happened in South Carolina is happening in other states as school administrators, college educators, employers and students come together to build communities focused on making youth apprenticeship an avenue to college attainment and career success.


We can extend college and career opportunities to more Americans.  We can give students more options for postsecondary education as we open doors to new skills, new knowledge, and a variety of careers.


Youth apprenticeship holds the promise of economic mobility for America’s young adults and economic growth for America’s industries, narrowing the gap between the good jobs seeking skilled talent and the young adults with the skills and credentials necessary to fill them, all without the load of college debt. As PAYA implements its vision, we can start making this promise come true.