Bridging the Gap: How Apprenticeships are Redefining Workforce Development
“Graduate high school, earn a four-year degree from a respectable college, and all will be well” – this narrative has long been the way that teenagers are introduced to the idea of finding a career, handed down from one well-intentioned generation to another. For millions of young people, however, this one-size-fits-all recipe for success has proved undesirable or even unattainable. A recent survey of high school students found that their desire and likelihood to attend a four-year university declined by almost one-third in the last year and a half, falling from 71% to 48%. Many young people are now placing more emphasis on career training and post-high school employment than focusing on the traditional route of tertiary education.
Can contemporary apprenticeships create a bridge between the corporate world intent on building a workforce and young people reaching for their occupational goals based on a new model?
As a result, one of society’s oldest tools for economic growth, the apprenticeship model, is gaining traction again in our professional communities. Breaking out of its society-cast mold as a perceived “secondary option”, apprenticeships are being recognized as the intellectually demanding, viable and desirable career path option that it is. The question becomes: Can contemporary apprenticeships create a bridge between the corporate world intent on building a workforce and young people reaching for occupational goals based on a new model?
Case Study in Action: Compton YouthBuild
As part of EQ's mission to build up our local communities, we teamed up with YouthBuild, a Compton-based organization focused on arming young adults with the skills and guidance needed to achieve sustainable, fulfilling careers outside of the traditional college trajectory. Our goal was to reimagine their Compton home-base to match the aspirational drive of the young adults who move through their apprenticeship program. The final result is a place that will enrich and inspire the next generation of talent for years to come.
Micro Documentary by filmmaker Eric Becker, an Emmy Award-winning director based in Seattle.
What Is a Contemporary Apprenticeship?
When you first think of an apprenticeship, your mind might wander to the practice’s history rooted in trades work; if one wanted to become a blacksmith, that young person followed and studied alongside an expert of the trade to gain the exact experience and skills the employer wanted through hands-on application, rather than reading about the job or hearing about it in lecture.
Apprenticeships are now rarer in the U.S. The Atlantic reports that fewer than 5% of young people train as apprentices, as compared with almost 60% in countries like Germany. So why should we breathe new life into this practice?
What if a return to hands-on learning could benefit not only young people, but also corporate leaders?
In recent years, the professional market has seen the rise of direct-to-career alternatives. Google has launched its Career Certificates, and the federal pilot project ACE Apprenticeship Pathways has been revamped. The importance of such developments, given the financial concerns, familial responsibilities, and the limited opportunities available to those who grow up in under-resourced communities, presents some intriguing possibilities. What if a return to hands-on learning could benefit not only young people, but also corporate leaders?
Compton Youthbuild students shadowing onsite at
Case Study in Action: Compton YouthBuild
In South Los Angeles, tucked on a quiet residential street just off Rosecrans Avenue, you will find a building filled with opportunity youth – young adults between the ages of 16 to 24 who are neither in school nor employed – who are gaining the knowledge, training, and opportunities that lead to long-term professional and personal success. This is the headquarters for Compton YouthBuild. YouthBuild partners with opportunity youth to build the skill sets and mindsets that lead to lifelong learning, livelihoods, and leadership. The nearly 300 YouthBuild programs across the United States and around the world offer students a chance to reclaim their education, gain job skills, and become leaders in their communities.
Last year, through our EQ Impact Platform, EQ Office entered into a national partnership with YouthBuild USA – the nonprofit support center for the global network of YouthBuild programs. Together, our goal is to expand the job skills training and hands-on mentoring programs that YouthBuild offers young people aiming to build their careers in the fields of real estate or construction.
One transformative way that this has been accomplished is through apprenticeships.
Apprenticeships at Compton YouthBuild
It all started with a simple request for “some carpet and paint,” after the Compton YouthBuild leaders shared that their space was “old, tired and needed a little TLC.” Lisa Foyston, Director of Development at EQ Office, recalls what happened when she first stepped into Compton YouthBuild, entering through a rusted iron fence to inspect stained ceiling tiles and well-worn classroom furniture:
“I went back to my team, and immediately, an EQ employee-led initiative was born. We knew that we were going to completely reimagine this Compton YouthBuild space. Our hope was that we would not just create a new physical experience, but that in doing so, we would create hands-on apprenticeship opportunities for students interested in construction and real estate. We wanted to leave them with that excited feeling: ‘This is the best opportunity of my life.’”
Over 27 vendors and 140 individuals came together with Compton YouthBuild and their students, donating time, money, materials and resources so that the project could take off.
The initiative involved Compton YouthBuild students from the beginning, giving them invaluable exposure to all aspects of the build. First, the young adults shared their wish list for the space, helping to shape the design so that it corresponded exactly to their needs. They met and talked to each of the players required to complete the construction project – from engineers to project managers and superintendents. One of the volunteers shared with them the story of their own career path, describing their personal experience of progressing from laborer to project manager. This inspired the students to understand that the skills they acquired during this project could open occupational paths to them.
From gaining a glimpse into the world of sustainable construction to getting a personal view of what it takes to run and manage a property, these students now officially have experience they can add to their résumé.
Traveling 14 miles west, the students took a day trip to EQ Office’s Los Angeles property, Playa District. Partnering with the EQ Engineering and Management teams, they rolled up their sleeves to remove materials from a vacant space in order to recycle and reuse them as part of the Compton YouthBuild rebuild. From gaining a glimpse into the world of sustainable construction to getting a personal view of what it takes to run and manage a property, these students gained experience they can feature on their résumés.
By the end of the project, every square foot of the Compton YouthBuild building, inside and out, had been touched in some way. “For us, this project wasn’t just about a building with four walls,” explains Sara Silva, Chief Financial and Operation Officer, Compton YouthBuild, “but creating a place where our community members can invest in themselves and create opportunities for family-sustaining occupations. We are so grateful to all of our partners and students who contributed to this project.”
It’s Not ‘Book’ Exposure, It’s Real
By giving young adults the opportunity to interact with experts in all facets of a build, this collaboration shines as an example of how contemporary apprenticeships create win-win opportunities for companies, young talent, and the communities in which they thrive.
“Being a part of this transformation as a student and gaining hands-on training with professionals in so many areas of construction and building management has provided me with opportunities to better my future, both professionally and personally. Without this experience, I wouldn’t be where I am today and taking the next steps as an intern with EQ,” said Maria Diaz, former YouthBuild student and now EQ engineering intern in Playa Vista, Calif.
The community gains, not only from the economic advantages offered by these contemporary apprenticeships but from the transformation of the space. The learning center is now an inviting place that inspires creativity and collaboration. Lisa Foyston recalls Silva’s delight and surprise when she first saw the entryway: “I get a text from Sara that says, ‘OMG,’ and I am thinking, ‘What broke? What fell apart?’ And she sends me a picture of the entry doors, saying ‘Oh my God! They are beautiful.” The teams and the students have infused the location with a sense of belonging that excites and engages everyone who walks through the doors – and which the community can enjoy for many years to come.
The teams and the students have infused the location with a sense of belonging that excites and engages everyone who walks through the doors – and which the community can enjoy for many years to come.
The companies that participate in these programs gain as well: in better-trained employees, greater diversity, faster recruiting, and an increased likelihood of retaining the new talent. In addition, they earn the invaluable respect and recognition of the community and the students that they help to mold, building relationships for the future.
Sara Silva, Chief Financial and Operation Officer, Compton YouthBuild and Lisa Foyston, Director of Development at EQ Office
The students arguably benefit the most, gaining confidence and know-how from working with experts in the field and access to knowledge they are unlikely to find anywhere else. In an interview, Lisa Foyston goes on to describe the benefits of this experience.
“A lot of what I have learned, I learned in the field. You could read a book, but a book does not teach you what to do when you have a new problem and how to solve it; it does not teach you when you are in crisis. You have to learn a lot of things the hard way – the good, the bad, and the ugly. Getting access for these young people to a 50-year-tenured engineer and allowing them to talk about everything that that engineer went through to get there – that is good exposure. And it is not ‘book’ exposure. It is real.”
Ultimately, with these contemporary apprenticeships, socially responsible employers can make a difference, developing a recruiting funnel from under-resourced communities of worthy candidates who are eager for professional opportunities. The Compton YouthBuild Project exemplifies this exceptional practice, offering a lasting, repeatable pathway for welcoming and retaining young talent into the workforce today and beyond.