As an effort to meet the needs of young people who are not college-bound, youth apprenticeship has attracted a great deal of favorable attention.
Youth apprenticeship, as the term is used here, is not an expansion of the apprenticeship system, currently practiced in the U.S., that serves the labor supply needs of specific occupations. Although there is no fixed definition of youth apprenticeship, a consensus is emerging on four basic components:
Except for some recent pilot projects, no youth apprenticeship programs in this country have all four components, but educators have some experience with each component. We therefore assessed the feasibility of each of these components as they work in U.S. schools today. While it can be misleading to predict the effects of a program by examining its components individually, much can be learned from this analysis: Barriers to the implementation of a component very likely will remain when the components are combined.
The noncollege-bound often drift from one unskilled job to another, learning no skills, and working mainly with other nonskilled young people. This system wastes time, delays maturity, and offers training--when it is offered--that is haphazard and in most cases does not result in any recognized credentials or certification.
German youth apprenticeship systems avoid most of these problems. On-the-job training occurs under the supervision of certified trainers, and the curricula are supervised by quasi-public employer organizations that include representatives of unions and schools. Apprenticeships provide a credential that is recognized throughout the country. Adolescents are quickly moved into the workplace, where they work with mature role models, acquire relevant workplace skills, and are socialized into the nonschool world, learning how to be effective and mature workers and learners.
Our analysis, therefore, is based on four school-to-work programs in the U.S. that share some features with youth apprenticeship--agricultural education, cooperative education, career academies, and tech prep.
We now assess how the four components of youth apprenticeship work in these four program models.
Among current school-to-work models, tech prep programs come closest to breaking the barriers between traditional vocational and academic students. Although tech prep programs preserve the distinction between students headed for community college and those bound for four-year degrees, they nonetheless increase the postsecondary education opportunities for a broader group of students.
Agricultural education has also had some success in reaching a wide range of students, at least within the agricultural community. Because the family-owned farm has given way to large, specialized, high-tech, corporate farming operations, youth are more likely to end up in production support positions than as owners/operators. This fact has forced agricultural vocational schools to recruit nontraditional students and provide programs where the agricultural/vocational component is often peripheral to the academic component.
Cooperative education programs that carry the negative stereotype of vocational programs have fewer applicants (U.S. General Accounting Office, 1991). Most programs, however, have admission standards: an average GPA of at least 2.0, good attendance, a positive attitude, and a lack of disciplinary problems, in addition to specific employer requirements. Nonetheless, co-op students tend to come from lower socioeconomic levels and to have lower than average test scores.
While high school co-op seems closely linked with the perception of vocational education, there is a strong tradition of co-op-like education at four-year colleges. Many engineering students, for example, participate in co-op programs. The acceptance of the co-op approach for advanced professional training is evidence that a similar approach might have appeal beyond students traditionally attracted to vocational education.
The career academy movement originally targeted youth who lacked academic and occupational focus, but many academies have broadened their mission to prepare students for college as well as full-time employment. Successful academies attract more applicants, increasing competition for placement in the program, and, in some cases, resulting in pressure to raise admission standards. Nevertheless, most academies still target students who have not excelled in a conventional school environment and who are unlikely to have plans to attend a four-year college.
The tech prep and academy models try to combine academic and vocational instruction, using applied coursework to provide a conceptual framework. This approach builds on the cognitive science finding that students learn more effectively if the barriers and distinctions between in- school learning and out-of-school activities are broken down (Raizen, 1989; Berryman and Bailey, 1992).
The academic portion of most tech prep programs is similar to college prep programs; each prepares students for postsecondary instruction, albeit in different types of institutions. In Canton, Ohio, tech prep students take a series of high-level applied "tech" courses (Tech Math, Tech Chemistry, Tech Physics, and 20th-Century Literature and Composition) that connect abstract knowledge to workplace applications.
Usually, co-op education students attend traditional academic and vocational classes with non-co-op students. As a result, integration depends primarily on the co-op coordinator/counselor. But coordinator responsibilities are added to teaching duties, and the counselor is typically responsible for the recruitment of students and the supervision of 50 to 60 students' classroom and workplace instruction. In addition, the counselor is the liaison between the school and the employer.
Unsurprisingly, integration of co-op students' school and worksite learning varies widely and is often haphazard. Indeed, the benefits of the co-op experience are seen to lie in strengthened work habits and in greater maturity and employability rather than in supporting academic learning.
Because of radical changes in the industry, agricultural education courses have more academic content, and students are now required to take physics, engineering, and chemistry (Rosenfeld, 1983). Aside from these changes, the integration of coursework and practical learning experiences has always been a strong element of agricultural education, with a focus on behavioral and leadership skills.
Student organizations such as Future Farmers of America and 4-H are integral parts of the process. In these organizations, students learn leadership and technical skills in a manner that reinforces management training, problem-solving skills, goal-setting, and achievement based on group as well as individual performance.
In most agriculture programs, students are required to set up and run their own businesses (McCormick, 1988), and they are encouraged to explore fields of study beyond agriculturally oriented subject matter. As a result, students graduate with solid experience not only in their area of specialization but also in peripheral disciplines.
Reducing the cost to employers through lower training wages or direct subsidies has not proved effective. In one instance, less than one-fifth of private employers were willing to take on demonstration youth even at a zero wage (Ball and Wolfhagen, 1981), apparently believing that the young people would not contribute enough to justify the effort to supervise them.
Programs that simply place young people on the job to gain work experience are not effective. The quality of on-the-job training is heavily dependent on who happens to be around to provide the training. In work groups with high turnover, "almost novices" train actual novices, a situation that violates models of good apprenticeship training (Scribner and Sachs, 1990).
Agricultural education has successfully incorporated activities in 4-H, Future Farmers of America, and Supervised Occupational Experiences (SOEs) into students' educational experience. SOEs are 12-month projects outside the classroom that give students actual work experience, develop their applied skills in basic math and science and in technical agriculture, and link them to the larger agricultural community and, thus, to potential employers.
In many tech prep programs the links to employers are tenuous, rarely going beyond employer participation in the development and design of the program. The fundamental characteristic of tech prep remains articulation between the high school and the community college, not instruction on the job.
Similarly, career academies have promoted educator/employer collaboration but have not developed the workplace as an instruction site. Employers are heavily involved in the academies, and student employment experiences are well- paying, substantive opportunities. But the nature of the learning that takes place in the workplace is still not well understood.
Unlike the other programs, co-op education is based in the workplace. Unfortunately, we know very little about the quality of job placements in co-op education or about the quality of the learning that takes place in these jobs.
Of the programs described in this brief, some tech prep efforts have gone the furthest in addressing the need for credentials. In 1990, the American Technical Education Association (ATEA) established national minimum standards for all tech programs (McGrath, 1991). In many states, these standards have been integrated into the tech prep curriculum.
Competency-based curricula have not been as extensively developed in the academies, which rely more on informal contact with participating employers.
Agricultural education has started to develop assessment and credentialing tools, and competency-based courses have been developed in many places.
The co-op education system lacks any specific certification procedures. Co-op programs rely on soft credentials such as letters of recommendation from employers. Further, the establishment of training standards is but a vague goal for most co-op programs.
Programs that serve a wide variety of students tend to become internally differentiated, perpetuating the divisions between types of students.
Students preparing for college are only tenuously involved. And, with the exception of some agricultural programs, when programs reach out to college-bound students, less academically oriented students tend to be excluded.
If youth apprenticeship is to become a reality, we must address the issues of both employer participation and on- the-job pedagogy. The two issues are closely linked. If employers need to be cajoled into participating, educators lose their leverage to demand improvements in the educational experiences that employers offer apprentices. It is likely that the interests of the employer will in many cases diverge from its apprentices. If this is true, the market will not offer incentives for firms to search out the best educational strategies.
The more narrowly defined the occupational goals of a program, the easier it is to develop standards and credentials; as programs move toward a model such as youth apprenticeship in which occupational training is used to provide a broad foundation, credentialing becomes more problematic.
Development of a large-scale youth apprenticeship system in which a significant part of the learning takes place on the job is a long way off. Schools should continue trying to strengthen relationships with employers, but they have to recognize that employer interests may not coincide with providing the best educational experience for students. There is no escaping the need for an appropriate set of institutions to regulate workplace education.
Despite the obstacles, efforts to adopt youth apprenticeship are extremely important. Many of the reforms associated with apprenticeship--efforts to break down the distinctions between learning and working, school and community, academic and vocational, and college-bound and non-college-bound students--can make fundamental contributions to the overall improvement of education.
Berryman, S. and T. Bailey. 1992. The double helix of education and the economy. New York: Institute on Education and the Economy, Teachers College, Columbia University.
Gore, D. 1988, February. 4-H and Iowa. Iowa City: Iowa State Historical Department.
McCormick, F.G. 1988, March. SOE: Where the action is in vocational agriculture. Insider, 43.
McGrath, J. 1991, April-May. Availability of national minimum standards. American Technical Education Association Journal, 3.
Mincer, J. 1988. Job training, wage growth, and labor turnover. Background paper. New York: Institute on Education and the Economy, Teachers College, Columbia University.
Raizen, S. 1989. Reforming education for work: A cognitive science perspective. Berkeley, CA: National Center for Research in Vocational Education, University of California.
Rosenfeld, S. 1983, December. Something old, something new: The wedding of rural education and rural development. Phi Delta Kappan, 270-73.
Scribner, S. and P. Sachs. 1990. A study of on-the-job training. New York: Institute on Education and the Economy, Teachers College, Columbia University.
U.S. General Accounting Office, Division of Human Resources. 1991, August. Transition from school to work: Linking education and worksite training. Report to Congressional requesters.
This brief is a distillation of a paper by Thomas Bailey and Donna Merritt entitled School-To-Work Transition and Youth Apprenticeship in the United States (New York: Manpower Demonstration Research Corporation, 1992). The research was supported by the Manpower Demonstration Research Corporation as part of its study of innovative programs that help students make the transition from school to work.