Examining apprenticeship programs for low-income youth

By Lindsay Bell and Jack Murphy
Mar 6, 2024

Young people are facing increasing challenges to self-sufficiency entering adulthood, which also poses a challenge for organizations that serve youth and for businesses facing labor shortages and skills gaps. Registered apprenticeship programs (RAPs) can help address labor shortages and offer young people an opportunity to enter the workforce through a paid, facilitated program.

Hosts Lindsay Bell and Jack Murphy, of ICF’s Workforce Innovations, Preparedness, and Poverty Solutions (WIPPS) portfolio, are joined by WIPPS Project Director and Cybersecurity Youth Apprenticeship Initiative (CYAI) coach, Mary Roberto, and Ian McMahon, Director of the Colorado Division of Economic and Workforce Support. Together, they discuss how workforce development and youth human services systems can work together to expand access to high quality jobs for low-income youth through RAPs.

Topics covered in this episode include:

  • What programs and services exist to connect low-income youth to employment and training.
  • Colorado Department of Human Services’ collaborative efforts to develop youth employment and training programs through multi-sector partnerships.
  • How RAPs fit into the youth services ecosystem.
  • Making programs accessible and appealing to youth of various backgrounds.
  • Barriers to self-sufficiency and what services exist to address them.
  • Successful collaboration between human services and workforce development programs.

Full Transcript Below

Lindsay: Hello and welcome to our podcast. My name is Lindsay Bell and I'm a research analyst at ICF. We're here today to talk about registered apprenticeships and low-income youth. We are working through the Cyber Youth Apprenticeship Initiative, which we also call CYAI, which is a program through the Department of Labor that invests in registered apprenticeship programs for youth, ages 16 to 21, in cybersecurity and IT careers. To date, ICF and the CYAI project has partnered with more than 900 organizations, including employers, sponsors, trading providers, and schools to enhance, expand, or establish youth apprenticeship programs in cybersecurity. My colleague Jack and I will be hosting today's podcast.

Jack: Hello, my name is Jack Murphy. I'm a research specialist here with the poverty solutions team at ICF. Joining us today is Ian McMahon, director of the Colorado Division of Economic and Workforce Support, who's gonna share some of his experiences in the human services sector working with low-income youth. We're also joined by one of our own ICF experts on human services and workforce development, Mary Roberto, who's gonna share her own ideas for collaboration between human services agencies and registered apprenticeship programs to support low-income youth in achieving self-sufficiency for themselves and their communities.

Lindsay: I'm excited to hear about some of these great opportunities for collaboration. So, let's get started by hearing a little bit more about our guest today. Ian, would you like to tell us a little more about who you are and what you do at the Colorado Division of Economic and Workforce Support?

Ian: Sure. So, at the Colorado Division of Economic and Workforce Support, we operate out of the Colorado Department of Human Services. And so, within our division, we oversee the state's TANF program, or Colorado Works, as well as the SNAP employment and training program, and we call that Employment First here in Colorado. We also operate two subsidized wage programs, as well as cash assistance programs for disabled adults and elderly adults. And we also administer the state's Refugee Services Program.

The work that we do here is really focused on uplifting those individuals who are receiving public assistance benefits and putting them on the path to self-sufficiency. And we do that in a number of ways, and looking at youth programming is one of those ways that we're continuing to improve upon and really grow.

Jack: Thank you so much for that introduction, Ian. Mary, would you like to introduce yourself, tell us a little bit about your background and your role here at ICF?

Mary: Thank you, Jack. My name is Mary Roberto and I work as a senior director at ICF. In this role, I have the privilege of working with some of the most passionate and smart people just doing really extraordinary things around the world. ICF is a global advisory and technology service provider, but we're not like your typical consultants. A lot of us combine our particular expertise in different fields with cutting-edge technology to help clients like the U.S. Department of Labor, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, and other federal agencies really solve some, especially now, complex challenges, and navigate change, and shape the future of the workforce and other programs that help individuals like Ian discussed.

I currently work across a few lines of business at ICF, including workforce innovation and an area called poverty solutions that we call WIPS, W-I-P-S. For our workforce innovation, I work on the Apprenticeship Building America project and support grantees in their efforts to build and scale apprenticeships and systems across the country. And I also work as an account lead for the Cybersecurity Youth Apprenticeship Initiative, assisting youth in cybersecurity programs build their skills and move up in the workforce in that arena and help the program scale their efforts in that way.

Poverty reduction and workforce systems innovation sits squarely in my heart because I'm a product of the work-based learning systems through public workforce programs. I found my way into a summer youth program, at the age of 17, that led me to a summer job and then full-time employment at one of the largest workforce centers in Colorado, where I spent 12 years. And then I moved from an entry-level position, performing data entry there to being a youth employment counselor inside an alternative high school in northeast Aurora, Colorado, to finally, in the latter part of my days, there to administering what is now called the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Program Act, WIOA.

So, lots of different positions. And then I left that local government agency and moved into state government working where Ian works now at the Colorado Department of Human Services, administering public human services programs and leading teams that connected public workforce and human services programs for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, SNAP E&T, and the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program, TANF, and help shape a more cohesive approach to service delivery for all Coloradans in need. So, that’s my background with my past and my current role at ICF.

Lindsay: Thank you, Mary, and thank you, Ian. It's great to hear a little bit about what work you're doing in this arena. And I'd like to hear a little bit more about what you've done working with youth. So, Ian, can you tell us more about your experience working with youth, especially in youth employment and training?

Partnering to develop program-specific options to support youth employment and training

Ian: Thanks for that question. So, my experience with the workforce development sector is relatively new. I've been in this role for about three years now, but my prior experience was in education as well as healthcare. And so, on a personal level, working in those different industries, there were lots of connections of looking at how we're preparing people to enter the workforce and really what are the baseline skills that are needed. And when you look at the healthcare side, the needs have continued to grow over the years. And so, in prior roles, I was very focused on how are we meeting the demand on that side of the equation.

But more specifically within my current role, we're in many ways still in the very early stages of developing our programming specific to youth employment and training within the Human Services Department. We do partner with many different agencies, including our county Departments of Human Services, as well as community-based organizations who have been really focused on this type of programming over a number of years.

Within our role on the state side, we have, to date, primarily focused on supporting those organizations engaged in youth workforce development through funding and through technical assistance. When you look at something like the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program in Colorado, we are a state-supervised, county-administered state, meaning that our county Departments of Human Services are the ones responsible for those direct client interactions. Many of them over the years have built up youth-specific programming for individuals who are involved in the TANF program. And in many instances, what that has looked like is a strong connection between the Human Services Department and the local workforce center.

You know, in Colorado, because we're very focused on local-driven efforts and local initiatives, a lot of the innovation in this sector or in this space has come from those county Departments of Human Services as well as our community-based organizations who serve individuals across a variety of demographics. But youth being one where we have partners who are really engaged, first and foremost, in the stabilization of families receiving benefits whether that is TANF or SNAP employment and training, or some other type of public assistance. One of the things that they have seen and help us better understand on the state side is that stabilization is really critical before you're able to start talking about career pathways and career development, whether that's for adults or for youth.

Based on the experience that we have gained from our different partners, the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment is another leader on the state side in this space, and they have a lot of work that they've done previously and are continuing to really build and grow. What we're trying to really do is find ways to better support through either policy on the program side to encourage and remove barriers related to youth employment, specific to whether that's registered apprenticeships or some other type of work-based learning opportunities.

We're also moving in a direction where we have an interagency agreement with the Department of Labor and Employment to grow apprenticeships, registered apprenticeships for TANF recipients specifically. And a major population that we wanna focus on within that work are youth. And because we are newer to this space, we're really relying on those partners who've been doing this work for a long time to incorporate their best practices and what they know, and really look at our role as continuing to support those efforts with an emphasis on youth employment and training, rather than trying to replicate what those partners are doing, because we think that it's a more efficient model.

In government, we sometimes duplicate services and additional supports, and that can cause confusion on the participant side. Rather than creating competing programs, we're really looking at how do we supplement existing programs to ensure that TANF recipients or SNAP recipients are receiving employment learning opportunities, and youth are a critical component of that.

Lindsay: Thank you, Ian. Partnerships across agencies and with community partners really are essential to developing a collaborative and comprehensive ecosystem of services for youth. Mary, I know you've worked on those partnerships across human services and workforce development here at ICF. Could you tell us a little more about your experience, and could you also speak to what youth participating in those programs are looking for, and what services are available to them?

Stabilizing and supporting low-income youth with earn-and-learn programs

Mary: I really appreciate the information that Ian shared about stabilization and this idea about partnerships. And that term is used a lot and needs to be a verb all the time, as in an active and consistent conversation about the needs of youth around the country in this area. For stabilization, it is like a chicken and an egg. You know, what comes first? Do you help youth stabilize their situation in whatever way that happens? Or does stabilization happen through these programs and services? I think it's different for different youth, obviously, in different areas around the country where some services are not as accessible. So, it is really talking to the youth about what that looks like in their specific arena, in their area, in their communities.

One piece is really establishing what stabilization looks like for them. And it’s really not doing it without their voice that is critical. They understand what stabilization means for them. They understand what has not worked for them in the past, for example, the educational systems that possibly didn't align with their needs. And especially with COVID, and after COVID how to reintegrate into those settings was particularly difficult for adults as well as youth.

What I feel like really attracts youth and attracted me back in the day to the work-based learning system is earn while you learn, that component of a RAP is particularly captivating for youth, and especially youth that really are experiencing situational or chronic poverty. They possibly don't understand necessarily what the remedy is, where it's constant like, "Maybe I'll take a job for this amount of money to get money in my pocket to help the family, help myself, because maybe the educational system isn't working."

There's all of these things going on. The urgency to stabilize, pay bills and get out of those situations are usually at the top of the mind for youth. So, again, that, "Oh, I can go and I can learn something, and I can get a paycheck while I do it." And it isn't just volunteer work. Not saying that to minimize volunteer work, but it isn't volunteer work to put in time before I get a paycheck like I do in a system where I'm in a college program, and maybe don't have the time or resources to do that alone.

Those components are really critical, listening to the youth's voice, asking what stabilization means for them, and alignment with employer needs. Really understanding their interests and abilities, capabilities, as it aligns with the sectors around, especially in the cybersecurity world. I think pointing out things like whether I am a person that wants to or can sit in a situation where I'm on a computer for long periods of time and so forth.

Those are the things that come to the top of my mind. Of course, there's the social systems and human capital that need to set alongside all of that, as well as financial literacy that I can talk about a little bit later. But those are the things that come to mind.

Jack: Thank you so much for that response, Mary. I really appreciated hearing a little bit about your own experience in work-based learning and how that's shaped your career.

Mary: Thank you, Jack. The history of apprenticeships in the United States is what some people would think is normally like the construction industry, things like that. Obviously, the RAPs have evolved over time and are in so many different industries across the country now, all over the board. If it's technology, healthcare, I believe employers really, for the most part, understand the registered apprenticeship system and understand how that pathway can help them really hit that supply piece in their companies and with that earn and learn potential.

Apprenticeships really have seven features that are important to note, and different than maybe an on-the-job training or subsidized employment, or other setups around work-based learning. The features that are important to note, again, are the industry-led piece. These opportunities come directly from employers that come from employer need, come from sectors that need supply. They need individuals that are willing to work in occupations that are in demand, that are paid jobs, on-the-job learning, supplemental education. You might learn something on the job that's supplemented with some contextualized learning out in maybe a community college where you possibly need to learn a program, some kind of computer program, while you are learning on the job. It really marries those things.

There's also diversity around it. It's important to note that we're not just talking about these ideas of possibly males going into a construction industry. The diversity has really bubbled up, like there's women in cyber, there's individuals that are experiencing neurodiversity in different areas. There's been a recognition that individuals with different learning abilities, different abilities, those in different situations can perform these jobs, all of these jobs in RAPs. They can get on board and learn and do the thing. There's quality and safety measures that are injected in the process. And last, but not least, credentialing. So, there's always a credential associated with a registered apprenticeship system. And that's important that you have something in hand to say, "I attained these competencies, I attained these hours, and therefore, I am equipped to do this work."

Jack: Thank you, Mary. I really love that you brought up the diversity aspect of the registered apprenticeship programs because I think it's absolutely essential that we make these opportunities accessible, but also appealing to people from a variety of backgrounds, whether that's women, whether that's racial or ethnic minorities, immigrants, people that don't speak English, like you said, people with different abilities, different neurological abilities. And, Ian, I was wondering if you could add any thoughts about particularly the aspect of making apprenticeships in a variety of industries appealing to the youth that seek out human services, seek out public benefits, whether that's SNAP E&T, whether that's Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, and how these apprenticeship programs can draw them in, in a variety of ways.

Ian: Thanks, Jack. I really loved what Mary was saying. You know, the way that I think about this is access and awareness. And what we've been doing in Colorado. We have the Colorado Workforce Development Council which is a collaboration between industry and different members of the public sector as well as education and higher education. And, through that, I've become far more aware and exposed to registered apprenticeships and work-based learning opportunities.

One of the things that the council has really focused on is providing policymakers exposure to that landscape so that they can come back and think about ways to improve access and exposure for the populations that they are setting. You know, we toured a STEM high school, and got to see firsthand individuals working on projects that were gonna lead to an apprenticeship or an apprenticeship pathway with employers that had been partnered with. And when you think about individuals going into that or being exposed to those types of things early, it not only creates that awareness, but it builds up the confidence to help people understand that this is an opportunity and a pathway for them.

Creating a workplace culture that recruits and retains youth is critical

I also really loved what Mary said, talking about how COVID has really changed the dynamics that are at play here. And one of the big things that I think it started is a conversation about workplace culture. When you're thinking about bringing in youth, particularly youth from underrepresented communities or traditionally discriminated against communities, workplace culture is really gonna be critical to attracting and retaining individuals coming into those workplaces or coming into those registered apprenticeship programs and other work-based opportunities.

And that is led by industry partners who are forward-thinking and taking the lead to structure the way that they're engaging with their apprentices to really help them feel a part of the organization, help them feel like their success is paramount to that employer. And that builds a lot of that goodwill and relationships with somebody so that as they're working through their apprenticeship pathway, they're motivated to stay, they're motivated to continue working either for that organization or within that field.

I think that's particularly important for individuals who feel like they've been left out of the traditional higher education system. There's a lot of conversation now changing the narrative that a four-year degree is no longer the only pathway to sustained economic success and stabilization. So, when we look at how do we promote individuals getting into these different types of pathways, I think workplace culture is critical to helping people overcome those barriers, particularly if they're with underrepresented communities who have not felt that they are valued, that their contributions are seen as really part of this overall picture of meaningful work. Those are some initial thoughts that kind of come to mind.

Lindsay: I love that piece about the importance of organizational culture, especially in engaging underrepresented and marginalized communities in industries that they have not typically been represented in or in career paths that haven't typically been very accessible to them. I would love to hear more about some of the barriers that these youth have to overcome in stabilization, and in creating a long-term career pathway that can help them achieve self-sufficiency. Ian, what do those barriers look like, and what kinds of programs and services exist to address those barriers?

Ian: When I think about the different barriers, I think we need to recognize that there are generational differences at play here, and that the needs and the motivations for younger workers might look very different than the current workforce or the workforce of the past. And so that sense of belonging I think is critical. And that sense of having an impact is critical. And so if we're approaching it and I'll speak from the human services side–if we're approaching it from the standpoint of we've provided the funding and provided the opportunity, and that should be sufficient, that's where we lose people, because I think that, to some degree, we have to be selling the benefits of these programs and helping people understand, helping the youth understand that this is not just another box that we're asking them to check. This is not just another set of instructions or coursework that they're expected to follow. That there's really this opportunity for them to learn critical skills in those industries that, quite frankly, have a huge need to bring in, and train, and retain a new workforce in order to be successful.

We really have to make a concerted effort to step outside of our own maybe traditional thinking, and really recognize that different generations have different motivations, different preferences. Some of the ways that we try to address this dynamic through our programming is, one, we really try to listen and to really be responsive. And I think that many of our industry partners actually understand this because there is a competitive advantage to looking at how you are structuring the work, and how you're structuring that engagement with those youth. We try to create responsive programming through the technical assistance that we're able to provide to our partners.

One of the ways that we look at it with our county partners and with our community-based partners is the case management piece, and how are we engaging individuals who are potentially going through some work-based learning opportunity or registered apprenticeship? How are we ensuring that the whole person is being served? The employer has a piece of that puzzle, but that's where on the human services side, we look at how are we providing support for housing stabilization, how are we providing support for transportation or helping an individual get the tools and equipment that are necessary to participate in that registered apprenticeship program.

By having our case managers focus on those wraparound supports beyond just is this individual going through the requirements of a given program, I think is one of the ways that we change the mindset on the human services side to be responsive and acknowledging that everybody is gonna be different coming through our doors, and so we have to be flexible.

From the macro policy side, we really try or are continuing to improve upon making our funding models flexible and responsive to allow our partners to really do that work. It's taking a hard look at the different regulations that we have in place. How are we structuring our contracts and statement of work with those organizations so that we're removing barriers on their end, but with the expectation that they need to then be really engaging their participants and ensuring that they have what they need to be successful on the employer side. The other piece of that is programming designed to support the participant throughout their registered apprenticeship journey and even post-registered apprenticeship or work-based learning—just because somebody's completed that type of training opportunity, many of those barriers may still exist.

It takes time to build the economic stability to really help somebody on that long-term course and trajectory. We need to make sure that, if there are behavioral health issues, that we're continuing to support them through that we continue to make sure that they have the necessary transportation or housing stability because when you pull those supports out, that can undo a lot of the work that's been done. And that's where that relationship between either a case manager or a public sector entity with employer partners is helping them understand that there's this cycle or this holistic approach when you're dealing with youth receiving public assistance benefits. In many instances, it's not just a case of you go through the curriculum and you move on, and you're done. I think there's more to it than that when you're dealing with people who are living in poverty. That you've gotta be forward-thinking on what does the off-ramp look like when somebody moves further through their career post-work-based learning.

Jack: Ian, that was a great response, and you’ve talked a lot about some of the already really promising practices that exist between human services programs at the state level, the county level, community-based partners, and then even existing registered apprenticeship programs. And the theme of this podcast, and then also the white paper that really inspired this podcast, was to highlight existing and promising practices for collaboration between human services and registered apprenticeship programs in general. So, Mary, I would love for you to shout out some examples of successful collaboration you've seen between human services programs, youth services programs, and employment programs, whether they exist now or things that you hope to see come about in the future.

Collaborations spell success in meeting the needs of youth

Mary: Sure, Jack. There are so many different programs out there that have the communication which is critical. The communication, like Ian spoke about between the Colorado Department of Labor and the Colorado Department of Human Services, and probably other entities in between, around and on the periphery, is key to understanding how to put programming together for youth in this way.

For example, labor understands labor market information, they understand sector-based strategies, they understand all of the things that aren't necessarily in the wheelhouse of individuals that do human services work, and the other way around. Labor doesn't necessarily understand what executive functioning is, what some of the issues are around poverty in this day, and how that's exacerbated by the problems that come with being marginalized and not having access or opportunities.

Those pieces coming together in any way, in any community is beautiful, and does lead to more of an understanding of where that synergy can really work in the benefit of outreach to youth, because outreach is different than it was even five years ago. There's youth who don't get information in the mail. They get information from their peers. They don't get information necessarily from a posting or a paper posting in some agency. They get information from their peers. And that's critical, too. You need programs that have an element of storytelling around what they've done, and how they can connect an individual who wants to take a different path, a new path to those resources, and how that can benefit them.

And talking about workplace culture, absolutely, you see job announcements that aren't typical. They say, "Hey, we want you to come here. We want you here. And we want these skills and abilities, but we're also going to give you something in return that isn't necessarily monetary. It's connection, it's an opportunity to grow, it's all these things." So, programs around the country that understand these pieces really do much better in being able to pull a young person in and help them move in the way that they need to move. They listen, they understand that not everybody learns the same. They're not gonna bring a youth into an environment, a work-based learning environment, and just assume that they're a kinesthetic learner, and they'll learn with their hands. They understand that youth just learn differently.

In addition to the projects that I work on with the Cybersecurity Youth Apprenticeship Initiative and Apprenticeship Building America, the other side of that being the Office of Family Assistance, where we've done a lot of outreach to programs where the human services and/or TANF program more specifically, has come together with the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act programs, WIOA, and youth programs, and have built systems specifically for youth to pathway right in. And it's different. It needs to be nuanced, and it needs to have the youth voice at the center.

I don't even know how many briefs are out there on the WIOA-TANF collaborations in the country on the PeerTA website, P-E-E-R-T-A. And that's through the Office of Family Assistance. If you wanna Google it, it is a WIOA-TANF collaboration. It really dives into some of the promising practices out there in the states, and some of the tribes where those things have come together really well for all different populations, but especially for youth who have different needs and especially now.

Jack: Thank you, Mary. I love that you brought up the TANF works briefs because I really love referring to those as a source of promising practices. One of the things that you talked about is the mutual benefit that exists between the youth apprentices and the employers in the sense that employers are, obviously, getting new employees that are very skilled, and the youth are getting credentials, jobs, experience.

Ian, I would love for you to explore the idea of mutual benefit that can exist not just between youth and employers, but between employers and industry partners and the human services programs themselves, whether that's in supporting the same youth that are part of the human services program and the registered apprenticeship, or in terms of referrals, communication, sharing information and resources. How do you think that those partnerships can be synergistic and mutually beneficial?

Ian: To answer your question, Jack, I think that there's a couple of different benefits. We actually have our Office of Children, Youth, and Families out of the Department of Human Services and it’s doing some really innovative work about or looking at registered apprenticeships and work-based learning for justice-involved youth, as well as youth involved in the child welfare system.

When I think about some of the work that they're beginning to undertake and how it can benefit employers you have a workforce or potential workforce who is looking to really make their mark on the world around them in a way that they may not have had opportunities thus far. That type of motivation, I think, can really benefit an employer because if they're able to make the connection and unlock the creativity, and the drive, and the skills of the youth that are going, regardless of whether it's a registered apprenticeship or other work-based learning opportunity, there's a real benefit for long-term engagement and long-term connection to that employer.

If you're able to bring somebody in, when they're 17 or 18 years old, and help them make that connection to your organization, you could retain them 5, 10, 15 years or more. And you're bringing them in at a point where they're gonna be able to absorb lots of new information, and they're going to be able to share a different perspective than maybe you already have within your organization. And they're going to help you understand the emerging market, if you will, for your services and your goods, right? What better way to understand how you can expand your services or goods to younger individuals, the youth, than having those individuals part of your organization and helping you understand what that looks like.

I think on the flip side, where the benefit is for the individuals, for the youth who are engaged in this programming is that they can see that there is an opportunity for them through these non-traditional pathways, if you will. And that sense of empowerment and belonging, I think really goes a long way in helping them stabilize their particular situation over the long term. When you're dealing with individuals who have felt that they are not valued, that the system works against them, that they are an afterthought that carries itself all the way through for the rest of their life, you're also helping set somebody up as they continue to grow and mature, and raise their own families, and become engaged in their community in other ways outside of employment. You are really helping build a strong foundation for that. And I think that the benefits of that go a long way beyond just getting a good paycheck in an interesting job.

Lindsay: Ian, that is such a great explanation of the wide range of benefits to both the employer and the employee, as well as their larger community into what opportunities exist when you involve these youth that might be a part of the justice system, the child welfare system, the public benefits system, and tap into that opportunity for growth that exists there, and the opportunity for long-term engagement.

It's been so great to hear your perspective on this, Ian, and I hope that our podcast is able to reach that audience of workforce professionals, the human service workers, social workers, all of these people in the ecosystem of youth employment and workforce development that we've been talking about today. I think we’ve heard a lot of great insights. And just to wrap us up here, I'd like to ask what you think our listeners can do to get more involved in youth apprenticeship opportunities and youth workforce development, and support that collaboration between human services and workforce development programs?

Ian: I think where I would start is making sure that this type of programming, youth-based, work-based learning, registered apprenticeships is part of the policy agenda for executive leadership and political leadership. I think we're very fortunate in the state of Colorado that we have a governor and members of his cabinet that are really putting apprenticeships, and work-based learning, and programming specific for youth at the forefront. It’s critical to have that collaboration because having that level of leadership support removes a lot of the barriers that can happen within collaboration between government entities, whether that’s horizontal collaboration or vertical collaboration. And so, I think that leadership buy-in is definitely key. And what goes along with that is helping inform those various levels of leadership, the specific needs related to the population that's served in human services.

I think that lots of folks have the right intentions and I think it's helping them understand the nuances of poverty and what that comes with, the barriers that develop, the trauma that comes along with that. Mary talked about executive functioning and there's a level of stress that individuals living in poverty are under that I think is far underappreciated in many regards.

Engaging in that type of information sharing and education with leadership who is supportive really goes a long way. I think the other key to collaboration is really defining what your niche is in human services. And Mary talked about this a little bit when she was describing what workforce centers do and are aware of and what human services do and are aware of.

Clarity on roles, responsibilities, and expertise is really critical so that you don't dip into an area where maybe your team or employees are not well versed enough to make this sustainable. With regulatory and policy considerations, we also all have to operate within certain guidelines at the federal or the state level, or local level. And those particular barriers, I think can be overcome with those right partnerships. You establish partnerships with the players who might not be governed by those same rules and regulations, and they have the ability to do that work.

Quite frankly, the closer you can get partners who are working directly with the youth and working directly with employers, I think is really the key. Because, at the end of the day, employers understand their needs and where they want to go with their organization. And the youth understand their motivations and understand their particular situation barriers in a way that the more removed you are from that frontline direct interaction, it gets much harder to make informed decisions from a policy perspective on how to enable both of those groups to really connect with each other in a meaningful way.

When you think about collaboration, it's not trying to do everything or trying to be in every space, trying to be part of every conversation or decision. It's figuring out where you can best plug in, where the use of your resources, whether that's funding, staff expertise, provide the best value add, and really trusting those other partners to play their piece in the symphony or their piece of the puzzle.

I think that's really critical because for many of us in the human services space, even those operating in TANF or SNAP employment and training, government doesn't necessarily move at the same speed as an employer, or a youth might on a variety of levels. We have to be realistic and recognize that. So, how do you build the structures and supports to let those groups move at the speed that they need to move while providing the underlying support and building the road for them to be successful? I think that's really where those critical partnerships can come into play.

Lindsay: I think we’ve heard a lot of great insights. And, Mary, just to wrap us up here, I'd like to ask what you think our listeners can do to get more involved in youth apprenticeship opportunities and youth workforce development, and support that collaboration between human services and workforce development programs?

Mary: The first thing I would recommend is to look for resources around the community. At the local level, at the state level, there are tons and tons of things going on. There are state apprenticeship agencies that are working tirelessly to make sure that youth are included in apprenticeship systems and apprenticeships moving forward. These are programs they're looking to get youth involved, youth voice involved in programmatic decisions and the direction forward.

It is also a good idea to reach out to the programs that serve youth. Youth aging out of foster care. Youth that are involved in the judicial systems and involved in the public assistance programs around the country. So, the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, SNAP, and the child welfare agencies that help youth transition from foster care to independence. Getting involved in those systems and supporting youth going forward would be a great idea.

Also, ICF provides great technical assistance around apprenticeships. We've assisted in standards development for different occupations, assisted programs in getting occupations registered. They are RAPs, registered apprenticeship programs. And we’ve also provided a lot of different technical assistance around diversity, equity, accessibility, and inclusion, DEAI into systems. So, helping to promote accessibility and diversity in apprenticeships. Those are just at the top of my mind. There's obviously tons to Google and look at around youth apprenticeships.

Lindsay: Well, thank you so much for joining us today, Ian and Mary. It's been an amazing conversation, and hopefully, we will keep this conversation going beyond this podcast. Thank you again for joining us.

Mary: Thank you, Lindsay, so much for having me. I really appreciate the opportunity to talk with you and Ian, and just having the opportunity to really bring this forward. It's so important for youth to have these pathways.

Ian: Thank you, Lindsay and Jack, and Mary for allowing me to be part of this conversation. I think it's very exciting and really represents a change in approach and culture to workforce development specifically for youth. And I'm just happy and excited to be a part of it. So, thank you.

Meet the authors
  1. Lindsay Bell
  2. Jack Murphy

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