We seem to have reached a consensus that, in today's economy, it's nearly impossible to secure a quality job and get on the path to economic stability without postsecondary education. But the reality of student loan debt and surveys which show college graduates don't feel prepared for their career of choice challenges the narrative that a successful future is intrinsically linked to a college degree.
Reality is also hitting employers' bottom lines as businesses of all sizes and in a variety of fields, including information technology, manufacturing, finance, and health care, struggle to fill good-paying positions. The pipeline that used to lead young people through high school and, ultimately, to the skills needed to secure those jobs is broken — and it might not have ever worked equitably, anyway.
It's clear our country needs additional, widely accessible postsecondary options that provide young people with the foundational skills, experiences, and credentials they need to thrive in a rapidly changing economy.
K-12 systems, institutions of higher education, and industries alike have been searching for solutions that reflect the current and future state of work, with little success. For decades, philanthropy has been investing to improve educational outcomes and college access, and it, too, recognizes that new approaches are needed, and fast.
That's why we funded the Partnership to Advance Youth Apprenticeship (PAYA), a multi-stakeholder New America-led initiative to promote more equitable and sustainable pathways to economic mobility. PAYA aims to do this by partnering with educators and employers to build more scalable long-term solutions that have been proven to help youth acquire the skills they need to navigate the rapidly changing world of work.
Youth apprenticeship aligns the needs of young people with the talent needs of employers. It builds on what is working in K-12, higher education, and work-based learning. Young people earn a high school diploma, gain paid real-world work experience, and earn college credit and credentials, at no cost to them or their families.
Far from an alternative to college, these programs can be a direct and less costly route through college, expanding rather than limiting students' future options. Apprenticeships can expand career options and economic opportunity for young people of color and others for whom it's mostly out of reach. Apprenticeship also keeps youth engaged in school and the workplace while earning a wage.
There is growing evidence that paid work experience really matters, especially for youth from underresourced communities. A recent analysis by the Brookings Institution and Child Trends underscores the importance of paid work-experience in connecting students to mentors and networks early in their careers, setting them on a path to long-term success.
We know we're onto something. In March 2019 we issued an RFP for PAYA's high-quality youth apprenticeship grants and received more than two hundred applications from forty-nine states and Puerto Rico. We have been floored by the response from states, cities, and regions across the country that have expressed real interest in launching or expanding youth apprenticeship programs.
In May 2019, PAYA awarded nearly $1.2 million in initial grants to expand pathways for high-school age youth to succeed in college and the workforce. The grants will support local employers, educators, community partners, and policy leaders who are working to build high-quality youth apprenticeship programs that promote inclusive economic development and create new opportunities for young people. By connecting these innovators, we hope to capture and disseminate best practices for students, employers, and communities that help them dramatically accelerate the pace of implementation.
We see youth apprenticeship as a rare and promising combination of the past and the future. Reinvented to address student disengagement, the need for greater diversity, and accountability to low-income students and students of color, youth apprenticeship deserves support from private funders, governments, and industry. As funders and believers in finding solutions to our ongoing struggle to provide educational and economic opportunity, we're planting a flag and invite others to join us in the cause.
This post represents the views of funders of the Partnership to Advance Youth Apprenticeship, which include Bloomberg Philanthropies, the Ballmer Group, the Annie E. Casey Foundation, the Joyce Foundation, JPMorgan Chase & Co., and the Siemens Foundation. To learn more about the initiative, see the PAYA website.