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Renowned Economists Recommend Steps Forward for Successful Youth Apprenticeship Program in Baltimore

Recommendations would build on Maryland legislation that would establish initial pilot apprenticeship program

BALTIMORE, MD (April 9, 2015) – Opportunities for young people to gain meaningful training and work experience are vital to the future of Baltimore, where only one in five graduates of Baltimore City Public Schools matriculates to a four-year college and 16 to 19-year-olds have an unemployment rate of more than 40 percent, according to an Abell Foundation report.

Authored by Robert I. Lerman, Ph.D., professor of economics at American University, and Arnold Packer, Ph.D., former director of the SCANS 2000 Center at Johns Hopkins University, the report recommends establishing a youth apprenticeship program to enhance student engagement, improve their job skills, provide direct links to jobs and careers and help young people gain mastery in high-demand occupations.

“Youth apprenticeship offers a sound and well-documented strategy for improving school and career outcomes for Baltimore’s youth,” Dr. Lerman said. “Maryland is developing a framework for a statewide apprenticeship program in 2016 thanks to legislation that is nearing passage in the Maryland General Assembly.  Expanding apprenticeships, based on lessons learned from similar programs across the country and in Europe, would allow more youth in Baltimore to build their skills and move into family-supporting jobs.”

Underemployed and unemployed youth is a problem across the country, with local communities searching for pathways to help youth transition from school to jobs and rewarding careers. 

“For too many young people, particularly low-income young people, engagement in high school is low, work-ready skills are scarce and work experience is limited,” said Robert Embry, President of the Abell Foundation.  “Youth apprenticeship is a proven model to increase youth employment and develop a highly-skilled workforce. Youth apprenticeship programs operate successfully in Georgia and Wisconsin, as well as in Canada and certain European countries. Research suggests that a youth apprenticeship program in Baltimore could be equally successful.”

The Abell report lays out existing program elements in Baltimore that could serve as the foundation for a youth apprenticeship pilot program.  The following recommendations are intended to help move the process forward by creating a youth apprenticeship pilot program and ultimately helping youth apprenticeship operate at scale statewide:

  • Convene stakeholders such as workforce development organizations, community colleges, public schools systems, trade unions and employers
  • Design a pilot program to demonstrate the effectiveness of an apprenticeship program 
  • Research how child labor laws could affect a pilot program
  • Work with employers to develop and adopt frameworks of occupational skills attainment 
  • Develop a financing plan for the pilot
  • Develop a marketing plan aimed at students, parents and employers

Providing opportunities to gain valuable work experience, combine work-based learning with related courses, and earn an occupational credential will reengage many Baltimore students in training and prepare them to enter jobs and careers, Dr. Lerman stated in the report.

Two Maryland study commissions agree and have recommended pilot youth apprenticeship programs in recent years. The next step, according to the report, is collaboration among business partners, the school system, training programs, and elected officials at the local and state levels.

Legislation passed by both the House and the Senate during the 2015 General Assembly, House Bill 942, will establish a position focused on developing “Apprenticeship Maryland,” a program to prepare students to enter the workforce by providing some of the necessary on-site employment training and related classroom instruction needed to obtain a license or certification for a skilled occupation.  

Dr. Lerman, an Institute Fellow at the Urban Institute and Professor of Economics at American University, has authored more than 150 articles, monographs, reports, reviews, and conference papers. He was one of the first scholars to examine the economic determinants of unwed fatherhood and to propose a youth apprenticeship strategy in the U.S.  Dr. Lerman has served on various panels and commissions, including the National Academy of Sciences panel looking at the nation's postsecondary education and training system for the workplace. In 2013, Dr. Lerman founded the American Institute for Innovative Apprenticeship (  Dr. Packer has devoted his career to workforce development issues.  He held important policy positions as Chief Economist at the Senate Budget Committee and Assistant Secretary at the U.S. Department of Labor. In 1991-92, Dr. Packer served as Executive Director of the influential Secretary’s Commission on Achieving Necessary Skills (SCANS).  

The full report is available here. Follow the Abell Foundation on twitter @abellfoundation