Four years ago, CareerWise was born into a world in which unemployment was historically low and industry was facing a skilled-labor shortage. One thing has always been certain, change is inevitable. Of course, no one expected it to be this sudden.
In the months leading up to the Coronavirus outbreak, we’d been talking to corporations about how apprenticeship is an investment in their workforce—and emphasizing that an investment in talent is an investment in a business’ future. That’s a philosophy that is steadfast regardless of whether the economy is good or bad. Apprenticeship that begins in high school is an investment that is the most economical and provides the greatest return for both the employer and the apprentice.
In today’s sudden downturn, employers are continuing to find value in their apprenticeships—both in the immediate day-to-day operations of the business and for the future of the workforce. In a world in which tens of millions of people have applied for unemployment in a matter of weeks, 67 percent of our CareerWise apprentices are still working, and most of those that are furloughed will return to work when the skies clear (by comparison, in Switzerland, home of the world’s gold-standard youth apprenticeship system, 70 percent of that nation’s apprentices are still working). Some are working remotely, some are maintaining modified-for-safety in-person schedules.
For example, Aidan and Samuel, information technology apprentices at TTEC, have been instrumental in helping the company transition their national workforce to a virtual work environment. Since the pandemic began, they’ve been onsite (following strict social distancing guidelines) following through on procedures to ensure that the correct equipment and components—such as ready-imaged SSDs for laptops—make it to employees across the country so the business can remain operational.
In a very real way, the Coronavirus has presented us a test-case for the Future of Work—a term that is often shorthand for uncertainties in the coming tech-enabled economy. What will be prized in the future of work, when AI and automation replace millions of jobs, is tech-savviness combined with the skills such as adaptability, problem solving and collaboration. As our first digital natives in the workforce, Gen Z can navigate our increasingly technological world, and as youth apprentices, they’re learning those essential soft skills that are coveted in uncertain times. Youth apprenticeship is proving to create the conditions for a responsive workforce.
The significance of apprentices remaining on the job is considerable not just for the value they bring to their employers, but also for the foundation they are building themselves. Apprentices are on much more solid footing than their peers. In this crisis, young people are being increasingly disconnected from work because in low-growth, low-skilled jobs they’re expendable. Millions of students are losing their links to both work and school due to the Coronavirus, and the costs are immense.
Higher education institutions across the United States are expecting significant declines in fall enrollments, and our K12 systems are finding that many high-school students are having real difficultly accessing online instruction. Given the disconnection from education combined with research that shows that unemployment early in one’s career tends to increase unemployment in the future and can depress future wages as much as 15 percent, there’s a good case to be made that youth apprenticeship is essential to our young workforce.
The benefits of apprenticeship—for both employers and students—haven’t changed. Employers get access to young eager and capable talent that perform meaningful work while training for full-time positions. Apprentices get meaningful experience, learn the soft-skills essential to career success and gain a professional network to help them apply their talents—before the barriers to higher education and other challenges of access and application become an issue.
Over the past three years, we’ve proven it works. Employers are recognizing real value from their apprentices. That’s why they’re still working, even amidst a global crisis. Now, apprentices are finding themselves as providers—to their employers, and in some cases, to their families as millions of people are out of work.