Apprenticeship and Work-Based Learning, Solutions for a Stronger Economy

America’s most famous youth apprentice, Ben Franklin (a printer’s apprentice at age 12), reputedly described the basic learning process of apprenticeship this way: “Tell me and I forget, teach me and I may remember, involve me and I learn.” This aphorism fits 19-year-old New Orleanian Da’Jonae Curtis. Although she was valedictorian of her high school class in 2016, she had no interest in post-secondary education: “I knew that I didn’t want to go to school—I was just done with school.” Instead, Da’Jonae found Earn and Learn and is about to complete her job placement with Tulane’s HVAC department. “I was kind of skeptical [of HVAC work] at first. It was something I never thought about doing,” she says. But after almost eight months on the job, Da’Jonae is proud of the certifications she’s earned and looking forward to an externship. Da’Jonae describes what she likes about work-based learning: I like that it’s very hands on.

I learn multiple skills in multiple different jobs—HVAC has electrical, carpentry, all kinds of things—it’s not just one thing. The first thing I had to learn was the tools—everyone here has big tool cases and stuff—tools that I [had] never seen before. They would say, “hand me this, hand me that”; I had no idea of what they wanted. But now, it feels great to know what all the tools are. She’s the only woman on her team at the moment, and she says “it really isn’t a problem. My supervisor is a really cool guy, very understanding; he’s a great teacher.” Da’Jonae’s advice about succeeding in Earn and Learn is aimed at participants, but rings true for everyone involved in creating pre-apprenticeship programs. “I think it’s an awesome program,” she says, “you just have to have the patience.” The programs described here and others emerging around the country represent an effort to involve a segment of the U.S. workforce in learning that can lead to real economic opportunity. Making apprenticeship accessible to opportunity youth opens up a deep pool of talent in an economy starved for highly skilled, technology-savvy workers, and it gives young people who haven’t had access to this valuable form of on-the-job training an opportunity to gain a foothold in an economy in which technical training and postsecondary education are prerequisites for the jobs of the future.

While effective pre-apprenticeship programs combine employer engagement, holistic support for participants, and access to work-based learning experiences, among other elements, programs that support opportunity youth often begin with just one of these elements in place and build from there. Around the country there are promising efforts to help opportunity youth gain access to work-based learning while providing the types of supports typical of pre-apprenticeship programs:

• Specialized Youth Support Service. In Baltimore, the nonprofit JumpStart’s construction training program developed a new youth-specific mentoring program in the fall of 2016 that trained and paired program graduates working in construction trades with some of the younger participants within this mixed-age program. Mentors do everything from helping mentees overcome frustration at work and stay on the job to transporting mentees to take a driver’s license test.

• Mobile Work-Based Learning. In Chicago, the Manufacturing Careers Internship Program, sponsored by the Chicago Cook Workforce Partnership and delivered by Business and Career Services, focuses exclusively on 18- to 24-year-old unemployed youth. MCIP moves its manufacturing training and internship program around the city to neighborhoods with the highest rates of youth unemployment, in partnership with community-based organizations that are trusted by youth. Employer engagement is central to this program: new neighborhood-based cohorts can only start after securing commitments from at least three nearby manufacturing employers within easy commuting range who agree to create temp-to-perm internship positions for program participants.

• Removing Barriers to Youth Success. In Philadelphia, YouthBuild Philadelphia Charter School offers an innovative construction pre-apprenticeship partnership program led by organizations that do not typically work together: the local carpenter’s trade union and the non-union affiliate of the national Associated Builders and Contractors trade association. With this program’s 2017 pilot cohort, the partners are testing changes to longstanding policies that had previously been barriers to opportunity youth entering construction apprenticeship programs. Changes include a waiver of the requirement for apprenticeship candidates to have cars, and allowing pre-apprenticeship participants to quickly re-take the union apprenticeship screening exam, which previously required a one-year wait.


Jobs for the Future Launches First Virtual Center for Apprenticeship and Work-Based Learning

“JFF views work-based learning solutions as integral to the future of work for employers and those on the path to careers. Companies that use apprenticeship and on-the-job learning report higher retention rates and a substantial return on investment,” said Maria Flynn, president and CEO at JFF. "We are excited to provide this national platform solely dedicated to select strategies to help advance our economy."

The Center for Apprenticeship and Work-Based Learning will centralize national resources, best practices, and technical assistance to underpin the development of successful apprenticeship and other work-based learning strategies that strengthen the skills of American workers and students. To address ongoing workforce challenges, JFF is leveraging 35 years of experience at the intersection of education and workforce to establish the repository, which will pilot and deploy new solutions designed to drive the adoption and scale of work-based learning strategies for talent development. The Center will be a resource for employers, industry leaders, states, workforce boards, community colleges, students, and community-based organizations to develop apprenticeship and work-based learning programs.

“We applaud Jobs for the Future for creating the new Center for Apprenticeship and Work-Based Learning, which will play a critical role in strengthening the skills of students and workers across the United States,” said Bridget Gainer, vice president of global public affairs at Aon. “The new Center and Aon’s apprenticeship program share a common goal, providing an opportunity for talented people to develop the skills they need to compete and succeed in the economy of the future. Through our apprenticeship program, we have learned that combining classroom education with real-world experience gives students from two-year colleges a winning formula. We are proud to help these students forge a path to success.”

“Eighty years after the national apprenticeship act in the United States, few employers actively engage in apprenticeship or other forms of on-the-job learning. Although progress has been made in recent years, we want to have an impact by creating the Center for Apprenticeship and Work-Based Learning as a resource to stakeholders at all levels,” said Eric Seleznow, senior advisor at JFF. 

Work-based learning solves a problem faced by many Americans: it’s hard to get a job without work experience, and hard to get work experience without a job. For employers, work-based learning provides a powerful solution to equip workers with the necessary skills to drive business success, while providing youth and adults the opportunity to gain the credentials, skills, and experience they need to enter and succeed in careers. Employers and workers alike are increasingly utilizing several models of work-based learning, like apprenticeship. Over the last three years, U.S. employers have added over 150,000 new apprentices, helping to build on the 80-year history of Registered Apprenticeship. An unprecedented influx of more than $265 million in federal funds to expand apprenticeship to new industries and communities has engaged thousands of new employers and other stakeholders in creating a modern apprenticeship infrastructure at state and local levels. 

To learn more about the Center for Apprenticeship and Work-Based Learning, please click here. JFF encourages individuals, businesses, and organizations that support apprenticeships to share their stories on social media using #apprenticeshipworks.

Partners for the Celebration include Advance CTE, AFL-CIO Working For America Institute, Global Apprenticeship Network, National Association of Workforce Boards, National Fund for Workforce Solutions, National Governors Association, National Skills Coalition, New America, and Urban Institute.




Jobs for the Future (JFF) is a national nonprofit that builds educational and economic opportunity for underserved populations in the United States. JFF develops innovative programs and public policies that increase college readiness and career success, and build a more highly skilled, competitive workforce. With over 30 years of experience, JFF is a recognized national leader in bridging education and work to increase economic mobility and strengthen our economy. For more information, visit or follow us on Twitter