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  • Writer's pictureSummer Fellowship Students

Expanding Youth Apprenticeships

Research cover page titled Expanding Youth Apprenticeships

The Project on Workforce at Harvard Summer Fellowship Series

This report is a product of the Project on Workforce’s Summer Fellowship Program, a short-term research and policy opportunity for Harvard graduate students and recent alumni from the Harvard Kennedy School, Harvard Business School, and the Harvard Graduate School of Education. Summer fellows are placed in interdisciplinary, cross-school project teams over the course of the summer and complete projects focused on pressing policy or operational challenges at the intersection of education, labor markets, and workforce development. The Fellowship Program also provides students with opportunities for professional development and engagement with staff and faculty at the Malcolm Wiener Center for Social Policy, the Managing the Future of Work Project at Harvard Business School, and the Harvard Graduate School of Education. The views expressed in this report are the sole responsibility of the Summer Fellows and are not meant to represent the views of the Harvard Kennedy School, Harvard University, or the U.S. Department of Labor. Find more Project on Workforce research on our website and on LinkedIn.




Executive Summary

The U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) has recently engaged in several efforts to strengthen the American workforce and increase quality employment opportunities for youth. The expansion of Youth Registered Apprenticeships (Youth RA) is one promising strategy to support workforce development. A Youth Registered Apprenticeship is a program that provides paid on-the-job training and related classroom-based instruction for people ages 16 to 24. The DOL has identified five key components of an effective youth apprenticeship: (1) active involvement of business, (2) structured on-the-job training, (3) classroom-based academic instruction, (4) rewards, and (5) nationally recognized credentialing.[1]

Youth apprenticeships enable young people to access quality careers and provide opportunities for employers to fill labor shortages in high-growth industries.[2] However, in the U.S., youth ages 16 to 18 are particularly underrepresented in the apprenticeship landscape compared to older peers [See Exhibit 1].

According to data gathered from industry experts, practitioner reports, and DOL resources, six factors have primarily contributed to the under-enrollment of young people ages 16-18 in apprenticeships. This report examines each of those factors and concludes that the DOL can implement the following three high-impact strategies to increase participation in youth apprenticeships:

  1. Awareness: Implement Targeted Strategies for Awareness & Engagement focusing on opportunity youth and employers.

  2. Complexity: Map & Unify Practitioner Resources by mapping all touchpoints in the apprentice journey and creating standardizing guidebooks for practitioners.

  3. Metrics: Improve Data Collection & Performance Reporting by tracking key indicators at each stage in the apprentice journey.


The U.S. labor market is facing new challenges. Statistics from a recent report show that 83% of U.S. employers have had difficulty recruiting suitable candidates in the past 12 months.[3] Key industries, such as advanced manufacturing and healthcare, are demonstrating exceptional growth but struggling to keep up with hiring.[4] Additionally, the U.S. workforce is aging,[5] and young workers struggle with opportunities to access quality work. An estimated 1.8 million youth ages 16 - 24 in the U.S. are unemployed,[6] and unemployment rates for youth ages 16 - 18 are at the highest levels since the 1950s.[7] This issue is particularly acute for the 10.7% of youth who were classified as opportunity youth in 2019.[8] A breakdown of the data also reveals several demographic disparities among Youth Registered Apprentices:

  • In 2020, there were a total of 92.86% registered male youth apprentices compared to 7.14% of registered female youth apprentices.[9]

  • Among young people under 24, youth ages 16 - 18 show remarkably less representation.[10]

  • Although data on the proportion of opportunity youth among all active apprentices are unavailable, research from Jobs for the Future suggests an outsized impact of apprenticeships on future earning trajectories for opportunity youth.[11]

Exhibit 1 [12]

Data and Methodology

The team used the Harvard Kennedy School’s Problem Driven Iterative Adaptation[13] (PDIA) framework to perform a comprehensive factor analysis and generate high-impact recommendations based on insights from in-depth practitioner interviews, a literature review, and an analysis of DOL data and resources.

Exhibit 2
Click to enlarge.

1. Youth Interest & Engagement is Low

  • Youth apprentices have limited opportunities to engage with other youth apprentices or peers who have completed apprenticeship programs.[14]

  • Youth frequently cite time-commitment challenges, academic coursework, and the inability to secure work releases as barriers to program enrollment.[15]

2. Program Design and Delivery Barriers

  • Transportation is a common barrier to participation.[16]

  • Key wraparound supports vary, including healthcare, child care, and caregiver assistance.[17]

  • Most Youth Registered Apprenticeships require a high school diploma or equivalent.[18]

  • Youth Registered Apprenticeships require participants to fulfill specific credential requirements outlined by the DOL.[19] However, credentials from non-registered programs may vary along with the ability of youth apprentices to earn college credit.[20]

3. Cultural Barriers Limit Broader Acceptance

  • 75% of youth apprenticeships are in the trades,[21] whereas only 16% of youth are ‘very likely’ to consider a skilled trade career.[22] In contrast, “70% of [Swiss] high school graduates enter apprenticeships in ‘new-collar’ fields such as IT, banking, healthcare, hospitality, and advanced manufacturing,” which suggests other fields are more attractive.[23]

  • Historically, apprenticeships have been synonymous with ‘dirty work,’ which makes parents and youth reluctant to consider apprenticeships.

  • Cultural barriers, discrimination, and misconceptions may be creating additional barriers to engagement for some demographic groups.

Exhibit 3 [24]

4. Inconsistent Engagement Among Employers Hinders Growth

  • Employers are hesitant to establish programs and hire youth apprenticeships because of the unknown ROI, legal liability, complicated setup, and long wait times.[25]

  • Employers would rather pay more to have an employee immediately, but that is not feasible with the current skilled worker shortage.[26]

5. Complexity & Lack of Standardization Confuses Key Stakeholders

  • The apprenticeship stakeholder landscape is extremely complex, with countless stakeholders such as the private sector, government, nonprofit, and education organizations impacting the space.

  • Guidance resources related to youth apprenticeship best practices are difficult to navigate because they are not aggregated by comparative characteristics (e.g. industry, age group, state, etc.).

  • The lack of shared language in the broader ecosystem creates confusion. For example, the term youth apprenticeship is not federally defined in the United States.

6. Data Gaps Limit Insights

  • Currently, there are no large-scale qualitative studies of participant experiences or awareness levels that provide generalizable insights.

  • Cost-Benefit, return on investment, startup costs, and equivalency costs of apprenticeship programs have not been well studied to provide guidance for employers.

  • There is no data on metrics tied to specific stages of the apprenticeship journey to understand why / when apprentices drop out of the program.


Based on the analysis of the six factors in the fishbone diagram, the U.S. Department of Labor has the greatest potential to impact under-enrollment in Youth Registered Apprenticeships in the following three ways:

1. Implement Targeted Strategies for Awareness and Engagement

The DOL must continue to invest in strategies that increase youth awareness of youth apprenticeships, especially for youth ages 16 to 18.

Strategies to Increase Youth Awareness

Youth-Led Activities

  • Establish an ambassadors program for youth apprentices or a youth-centered network that allows participants to connect with peers.[27]

  • Host youth apprentice speaker panels to increase experiential feedback from youth.[28]

  • Launch Youth Voice Design Sprints that foster participatory design and amplify youth perspectives (See the example launched by the Partnership to Advance Youth Apprenticeships).[29]

Community Approach

  • ​Collaborate with community centers, school systems, and nonprofit organizations.

  • Conduct focus groups with parents & youth.

  • Launch in-school engagement efforts.


  • Live stream relevant events, such as the National Apprenticeship Week, on social media.

  • Allow youth apprentices to participate in social media takeovers using DOL’s platforms.

  • Provide multilingual video content.

  • Boost digital engagement with paid social media campaigns.

Additionally, the agency should (1) expand the number of jobs in high-growth, high-demand sectors to help employers meet projected labor demands and (2) increase opportunities in sectors that have high retention rates, such as financial services and IT.[30] The DOL should also (3) increase opportunities in sectors with high percentages of women, like healthcare, to address gender disparities in apprenticeship enrollment[31] and (4) promote career pathways with livable wages.

2. Map and Unify Practitioner Resources

The DOL should create a comprehensive map of a youth apprentice’s journey to visualize every stage during a Youth Registered Apprenticeship program. This crucial resource would support the agency’s plan to deliver a user-centric “‘No wrong door’ youth workforce system that offers seamless access to supportive services and workforce development opportunities for youth.”[32]

Click to enlarge.

Click to enlarge.

In addition to the user journey map, the Youth Registered Apprenticeship ecosystem needs a simplified guidance resource featuring generalizable best practices and standardized language.

To map and unify guidance resources, the DOL should implement the following strategies:

Strategies to Map and Unify Practitioner Resources

​Practitioner Guidebook

Create a practitioner guidebook that creates definitive, standardized language and aggregates high-level takeaways from proven best practices for practitioners. Efforts within DOL’s Office of Apprenticeship are already underway to create this resource, which will include content from this report.

Standardize language

Create a glossary of common apprenticeship-related terms that the DOL uses, similar to the Glossary & Acronym Guide in Maryland’s CTE implementation guide.

Create a standardized federal definition for what qualifies as a Youth Apprenticeship while considering state variations and programs that are currently non-registered.

Mythbusting Factsheets

Release DOL-verified Mythbusting Factsheets to dispel common misunderstandings around policy requirements that impact youth and employer engagement. For example, this type of resource can help address concerns regarding Child Labor laws. See an example of Mythbusting Factsheets from Colorado.[33]

​Online Aggregation

Organize guidance resources and case studies using a filterable search menu of aggregated characteristics so that relevant case studies can be easily located. Website visitors should be able to search best practices by industry, state, age range, etc.

3. Improve Data Collection and Metrics

The DOL should update its data tracking system to include Key Performance Indicators at each stage of the Youth Registered Apprenticeship Journey. One example of a progress indicator is 'the number of social media impressions’ among target youth. This type of progress indicator is quantifiable and can provide the agency with opportunities to measure awareness. Tracking performance indicators along the entire apprenticeship journey will also help identify where youth are entering and exiting the apprenticeship ecosystem. The DOL also needs to improve efforts to capture and assess relevant qualitative data from youth and employers.


Given the growing demand for skilled labor in emerging industries and quality employment opportunities, strengthening the youth apprenticeship ecosystem is an essential step for achieving long-term U.S. economic stability. The U.S. Department of Labor has the unique combination of credibility, resources, and reach to address the three leading causes of apprenticeship under-enrollment for youth ages 16 to 18. Overall, low awareness levels among youth and employers, a confusing engagement process for practitioners, and limited performance measurements on the apprenticeship journey have complicated the Youth Registered Apprenticeship system. Based on the problem analysis in this report and the Department’s authority, acceptance, and ability, the DOL can best strengthen the registered apprenticeship ecosystem through three strategies:

  1. Implement targeted strategies for awareness and engagement that center youth experiences and integrate community and partnership feedback.

  2. Map the “No Wrong Doors” apprenticeship journey and unify practitioner resources in an authoritative guidebook to promote system cohesion.

  3. Improve data collection and performance reporting to measure key progress indicators along the apprenticeship journey to enhance targeted interventions.


About the Authors

Adeola Lawal was a 2023 Summer Fellow at the Project on Workforce at the Malcolm Wiener Center for Social Policy at the Harvard Kennedy School. Adeola Lawal is a 2023 graduate of the Harvard Graduate School of Education.

Charlie Meynet was a 2023 Summer Fellow at the Project on Workforce at the Malcolm Wiener Center for Social Policy at the Harvard Kennedy School. Charlie Meynet is a 2024 graduate of the Harvard Kennedy School.

Krizia Lopez was a 2023 Summer Fellow at the Project on Workforce at the Malcolm Wiener Center for Social Policy at the Harvard Kennedy School. Krizia Lopez is a 2023 graduate of the Harvard Kennedy School.


The authors would like to thank our colleagues in the U.S. Department of Labor’s Employment and Training Administration and Office of Administration, whose daily guidance was indispensable. Special thanks to the industry experts we consulted for their time, insight, and guidance.

Suggested citation: Lawal, A., Meynet, C., Lopez, K. (August 2023). Expanding Youth Apprenticeships. Published by Harvard Kennedy School.

About the Project on Workforce at Harvard

The Project on Workforce is an interdisciplinary, collaborative project between the Harvard Kennedy School’s Malcolm Wiener Center for Social Policy, the Harvard Business School Managing the Future of Work Project, and the Harvard Graduate School of Education. The Project produces and catalyzes basic and applied research at the intersection of education and labor markets for leaders in business, education, and policy. The Project’s research aims to help shape a postsecondary system of the future that creates more and better pathways to economic mobility and forges smoother transitions between education and careers. Learn more at


CASE STUDY: Maryland

1.) Awareness & Engagement

  • The Maryland State Department of Education

    • Launched the “Maryland Works” Grant program

    • Awarded $12.2 Million to six local educational agencies and three intermediaries that are working to develop quality college and career pathways

  • The state of Maryland has engaged in several multi-agency partnerships that unite stakeholders in industries such as labor, commerce, education, and business.

    • Multi-agency collaboration:

      • Youth Apprenticeship Advisory Committee

      • Apprenticeship Maryland Program (AMP)

        • Partners include: (1) Maryland Department of Labor, (2) Maryland State Department of Education (MSDE), (3) Department of Commerce, (4) Public School Systems, (5) “community education and business partners,” (6) local employers[34]

      • Career and Technical Education Committee

        • Consists of several members, including the Secretary of Labor[35]

        • Unit within Governor’s Workforce Board

2.) Practitioner Guidance

  • The state of Maryland provides practitioner guidance by providing a statewide definition of relevant terms such as “youth apprenticeship” and “school-to-apprenticeship.”[36]

  • Maryland has outlined five principles for high-quality Youth Apprenticeships to scale programs.[37]

  • The Blueprint for Maryland’s Future indicates that the state is focused on expanding high-demand career tracks for youth and announced a goal for 45% of high school graduates to “complete a registered apprenticeship program” and earn “an industry-recognized credential.”[38]

    • The Maryland Apprenticeship Locator is a navigation tool that is provided by the Maryland Apprenticeship Training Program (MATP) for apprentices and employers to search apprenticeship opportunities.[39]

3.) Data Collection & Performance Reporting

  • Maryland gathers relevant data and conducts program evaluations.

    • In 2017, the Youth Apprenticeship Advisory and MSDE conducted a “School System Survey”[40] in 2017 to measure:

      • (1) school system awareness of apprenticeship opportunities

      • (2) student participation in apprenticeships

  • Multi-agency programs such as the Apprenticeship Maryland Program implement student and business feedback.[41] This iterative process ensures that the state is relying on evidence-based strategies to expand youth employment options.


[1] “Expanded Pathways: Youth Apprenticeships Give Students Brighter Futures,” n.d.,

[2] Payne and Kuehn, “Models of Youth Registered Apprenticeship Expansion.”

[3] “The Global Skills Shortage: Bridging the Talent Gap with Education, Training and Sourcing” (SHRM, 2019),

[4] “Fastest Growing Occupations : Occupational Outlook Handbook,” U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, accessed July 17, 2023,

[5] Mischa Fisher, “Skilled Trades in America,” Angi Research and Economics (blog), accessed July 17, 2023,

[6] “Employment and Unemployment Among Youth - Summer 2022,” n.d.

[7] “Expanded Pathways: Youth Apprenticeships Give Students Brighter Futures.”

[8] “Youth Disconnection in America,” Measure of America, accessed July 19, 2023,

[9] Myriam Sullivan et al., “The Current State of Diversity and Equity in U.S. Apprenticeships For Young People,” June 2021,

[10] Julia Payne and Daniel Kuehn, “Models of Youth Registered Apprenticeship Expansion,” n.d.,

[11] “Making Apprenticeship Work for Opportunity Youth,” Jobs for the Future, September 30, 2017,

[12] Julia Payne and Daniel Kuehn, “Models of Youth Registered Apprenticeship Expansion,” n.d.,

[13] “Problem Driven Iterative Adaptation Toolkit,” Building State Capability, accessed July 27, 2023,

[14] Annelies Goger, “What Three High Schoolers Have to Say on the Transformative Impact of Youth Apprenticeships,” Brookings, April 27, 2023,

[15] Goger.

[16] Michael Prebil and Taylor White, “Youth Apprenticeship and Work-Based Learning in the Skilled Trades,” New America, accessed July 17, 2023,

[17] Fuller, J. B., Lipson, R., Mallah, F., Pendse, G., & Snyder, R. (2022). The Options Multiplier: Decoding the CareerWise Youth Apprentice Journey.

[18] “Expanded Pathways: Youth Apprenticeships Give Students Brighter Futures,” n.d.,

[19] Fuller, J. B., Lipson, R., Mallah, F., Pendse, G., & Snyder, R. (2022). The Options Multiplier: Decoding the CareerWise Youth Apprentice Journey.

[20] Kelly Vedi, “Changing Views Present New Opportunities for Youth Apprenticeship,” New America, April 2, 2023,

[21] “Interactive Apprenticeship Data,”, accessed July 17, 2023,

[22] Industry Source, “2022 Makers Index: What’s Keeping Young People from the Skilled Trades?,” Technical Education Post, April 14, 2022,

[23] Nicholas Wyman, “Jobs Now! Learning From The Swiss Apprenticeship Model,” Forbes, accessed July 17, 2023,

[24] Sullivan et al.

[25] Daniel Kuehn et al., “Youth Apprenticeship in the United States” (Urban Institute, n.d.),

[26] Mischa Fisher, “Skilled Trades in America,” Angi Research and Economics (blog), accessed July 17, 2023,

[27] Arlen James, “Apprenticeships - Are They Still the Best Kept Secret?,” EELGA (blog), February 8, 2023,

[28] Goger, “What Three High Schoolers Have to Say on the Transformative Impact of Youth Apprenticeships.”

[29] Shelton Daal, “PAYA Youth Voice Design Sprint: Co-Designing for Equity,” New America, accessed July 27, 2023,

[30] Joseph B Fuller et al., “The Options Multiplier: Decoding the CareerWise Youth Apprentice Journey,” November 14, 2022,

[31] “High Demand Occupations,” DOL, accessed July 17, 2023,

[32] Brent Parton, “Youth Employment Works,” DOL Blog, March 15, 2023,

[33] Myth vs. Fact: Work-based Learning for Youth in Colorado. (n.d.). CareerWise Colorado, Colorado Department of Labor and Employment.

[34] “Maryland’s Growing Youth Apprenticeship Program Now Includes Twenty of the State’s Local Public School Systems - News - Department of Labor,” accessed July 22, 2023,

[35] Michael DiGiacamo, “CTE Committee Initial Phase One Implementation Plan - March 2023.Pdf,” March 2023,

[36] DiGiacamo.

[37] Christopher MacLarion and Lauren Gilwee, “Maryland Apprenticeship and Training Program (MATP) - POLICY ISSUANCE 2022-12,” n.d.,

[38] Justin Dayhoff, “MSDE Makes More Than $12 Million Investment Through Maryland Works Grant Aimed to Bolster Infrastructure for Sustainable Pipeline Toward Industry-Aligned Apprenticeship Programs,” June 28, 2023,

[39] “Maryland Apprenticeship Locator,” accessed July 28, 2023,

[40] Kelly Schulz, “Youth Apprenticeship Advisory Committee Annual Report,” Earn and Learn with Apprenticeship Maryland, 2017,

[41] Tiffany Robinson, “Youth Apprenticeship Advisory Committee Annual Report,” 2022,


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