The Current State of Diversity and Equity in U.S. Apprenticeships For Young People
What the Data Tell Us About Representation, Equity Gaps, and Opportunity Along Gender and Race/Ethnicity Lines
Registered Apprenticeship (RA) offers a promising pathway to well-paid work in industries with ample room for professional and salary growth. People who complete Registered Apprenticeships earn average starting salaries of $77,000, and their average lifetime earnings outpace those of their peers by more than $300,000.
Unlike apprenticeship systems in other parts of the world, the U.S. RA system isn’t built as a career pathway for young people. In fact, the average age of new apprentices in the United States is 29. While there has been a push on multiple fronts over the past five years to increase the number of high-quality apprenticeships for high school age youth, those efforts haven’t yet made a dent in disparities of outcomes for this group. Efforts to increase the number of younger apprentices in high-quality RA programs are especially important for Black and Indigenous youth and other young people of color, who have been disproportionately affected economically by the pandemic. While many are working again after the massive layoffs of the pandemic’s early days, the long-term impact of even temporarily losing employment experience and access to training can’t be underestimated.
Against this backdrop, Jobs for the Future (JFF) recently analyzed a decade of federal RA data from the U.S. Department of Labor’s Registered Apprenticeship Partners Information Database System (RAPIDS) to glean insights about the system’s youngest apprentices—ages 16 to 24. The data was disaggregated by race/ethnicity and gender to better understand the challenges and opportunities among these groups: Specifically, how diverse is the population of young apprentices? Are they clustered in certain occupations? How do their exit wages compare to those of their peers? We found that although the number of young apprentices grew significantly between 2010 and 2020, the same inequities of access and outcomes, specifically exit wages, still exist for people of color and women of all backgrounds. The data points to occupational segregation of workers who aren’t white and female workers of all backgrounds as the primary reason for below-average exit wages (that is, these groups are overrepresented in occupations with the least amount of advancement potential).
Here’s a look at the numbers.
A Look at the Data
Between 2010 and 2020, a total of 389,860 16-to-24-year-olds started a Registered Apprenticeship program. The number of new youth apprentices per year grew steeply from 18,877 to 40,293, representing a 113 percent increase. Contrast that with a 70 percent increase from 2011-2020 in the number of registered apprentices of all ages. The increase in the number of young apprentices has been steady from year to year, with the exception of 2019-2020, which marked the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. There was a 28 percent decrease in youth apprentices in the first year of the pandemic—from 55,735 to 40,293.
Fueling Youth RA Growth: A DOL Funding Bump
The growth of youth participating in apprenticeships over the past decade can be largely attributed to increases in Department of Labor (DOL) funding beginning in 2015—a move that emphasized supporting programs targeting communities that in the past have not received equitable apprenticeship investments from the government or private sector.
Figure 1: Number of New Youth Apprentices by Fiscal Year, 2010-2020
View Source Data Source: Registered Apprenticeship Partners Information Database System, U.S. Department of Labor.
Race and Ethnicity of Youth Registered Apprentices
Between 2010 and 2020, an average of 35 percent of youth apprentices identified as nonwhite while 63 percent identified as white. Of the nonwhite apprentices, the largest percentages identified as Hispanic (21 percent) and Black (8 percent). According to the 2020 U.S. Census, people who identified as Hispanic or Latino made up 18.7 percent of the population, and the Black population was 12.7 percent, so Hispanic/Latino youth are slightly overrepresented in apprenticeship while Black youth are underrepresented. 
Hispanic representation grew slightly over the course of the decade from 18 percent in 2010 to 21 percent in 2020, while Black representation hovered between 7 and 8 percent.
Thoughts on Why: Factors Contributing to Underrepresentation of Black Youth in Registered Apprenticeship Programs
Our reasoning about the underrepresentation of Black youth in apprenticeship programs applies to women of all backgrounds as well (see next chart). The causes are complex and multifactorial and include the lingering effects of a foundational apprenticeship model that was mostly applied in trade occupations that included exclusionary recruitment strategies that often failed to attract women and people of color and were heavily based on word of mouth. Another factor could be that workplaces that hire apprentices have sometimes been inhospitable to people who aren't white or male.
Figure 2: Aggregate Shares of Total Youth Participants in Apprenticeships by Race/Ethnicity, Fiscal Years 2010 to 2020
Figure 3: Shares of Registered Youth Apprentices by Race/Ethnicity by Fiscal Year, 2010 to 2020
Top Occupations by Race and Ethnicity
Top occupations for Black, Hispanic, and white apprentices were mostly the same.
Figure 4: Top Occupations for Aggregate Totals of Black, Hispanic, and White Youth Apprentices, Fiscal Years 2010 to 2020
Gender Composition of Youth Registered Apprentices
Between 2010 and 2020, women comprised on average about 7 percent of all youth apprentices, from a low of 5 percent in 2011 to 11 percent in 2020.
Thoughts on Why: Expanded Industries and Grants May Have Boosted Women’s Representation
Apprenticeship has traditionally focused on the male-dominated trades, so the scant number of women in this sample is not surprising. The decade’s slight uptick in representation of women, as well as a rise in Hispanic representation (and, to a lesser degree, representation of Black workers), may be attributable to federal investments such as the American Apprenticeship Initiative grants that reflected success registering diverse populations into apprenticeships. The increase for women may also be attributable to the expansion of RA programs to more industries and occupations that already have larger numbers of women in their workforces.
Figure 5: Aggregate Shares of Total Youth Participants in Apprenticeships by Gender, Fiscal Years 2010 to 2020
View Source DataSource: Registered Apprenticeship Partners Information Database System, U.S. Department of Labor.
Figure 6: Shares of Registered Youth Apprentices by Gender by Fiscal Year, 2010 to 2020
Top Five Occupations for Male and Female Youth Apprentices
The top five occupations for young male apprentices were electrician (23 percent), plumber/pipefitter/steamfitter (12 percent), carpenter (11 percent), construction laborer (6 percent), and electrical power line installer and repairer (3 percent).
Figure 7: Top Occupations for Aggregate Totals of Male and Female Youth Apprentices, Fiscal Years 2010 to 2020
Thoughts on Why: Trades Continue to Dominate Apprenticeship
Again, apprenticeships have always skewed heavily toward the trades, so the top five jobs for young men and women in apprenticeship pathways are consistent with that tradition. When the trades are such a big part of the RA system, they can be a top program for women while still having few women relative to men. There are also initiatives such as Chicago Women in Trades and the Department of Labor’s Women in Apprenticeship and Nontraditional Occupations (WANTO) grant program helping to expand pre-apprenticeship and apprenticeship pathways for women, especially in the trades.
Participation of Youth Apprentices in STEM Occupations
Between 2010 and 2020, only 1.17 percent of youth apprentices were enrolled in STEM occupations. While a small percentage, it does represent a fivefold increase in STEM apprentices between 2010 and 2020 (132 vs. 844).
Figure 8: Aggregate Totals of Youth Apprentices Participating in STEM, Construction, and Other Occupations, Fiscal Years 2010 to 2020
Thoughts on Why: The Low Number of STEM Apprentices Reflects the Limited Number of Available Positions
There are very few STEM apprenticeships, so the small number of youth STEM apprentices comes as no surprise. STEM occupations offer a tremendous opportunity to use apprenticeship, with its emphasis on hands-on learning, to train more young people, and especially women and people of color, in STEM fields where employers have difficulty finding people with certain skills. It is also important to note STEM apprenticeship opportunities are growing, and several states and funding opportunities focus on supporting these pathways for young people.
Average Hourly Exit Wages
The average hourly exit wage for youth apprentices of all genders and races/ethnicities was $31.  Across race/ethnicity lines, the white youth hourly exit wage nearly equaled the average of $29.55, compared with $32 for Hispanic youth and $23 for Black youth. These wages were significantly higher than the average wages for youth overall. In 2020, the overall white median hourly wage was $12.89 compared with $12.29 for Hispanic youth and $12.06 for Black youth.
Looking at the data through a gender lens, however, shows, that apprenticeships boost male wages significantly more than female wages. While male youth overall earned $13.08 per hour, male youth apprentices earned on average $31 per hour for an average boost in wages of 137 percent. This compares to a wage boost for female apprentices of 42 percent ($18 for apprentices and $12.69 overall).
Figure 9: Average Hourly Exit Wages by Gender and Race/Ethnicity for All Youth Participants in Apprenticeships, Fiscal Years 2010 to 2020
Thoughts on Why: Hourly Wage Disparities Linked to Occupational Segregation
Occupational segregation in apprenticeship explains the disparities in average hourly wages across gender and race/ethnicity lines. The top occupation for women, pharmacy technician, paid $12 per hour compared with $26 per hour for the top male occupation of electrician. Similarly, Black apprentices’ average exit wage of $23 (compared to $32 for Hispanic workers and $30 for white workers) is likely attributable to the large share of Black apprentices participating in heavy trucking and tractor-trailer programs, which paid $18 in exit wages.
The Data in Summary
The RAPIDS data paints a mixed picture of youth participation in apprenticeship between 2010 and 2020.
There are several bright spots. The number of young people between ages 16 and 24 participating in apprenticeship grew dramatically during this time and at a much higher rate than overall youth employment. Moreover, the average exit wage of $30 per hour for young people completing apprenticeships is much higher than the median wages among all young people, attesting to the power of work-based learning to move people into well-paid jobs. And while STEM apprenticeships still represent a small proportion of apprenticeship programs, they did show substantial growth over the decade, reflecting an emerging national focus on building alternative youth pathways into careers in science, technology, engineering, and math.
Despite these gains, apprentices of color and women apprentices of all backgrounds lag behind in both representation and opportunity. The percentages of women and Black apprentices have not budged significantly between 2010 and 2020, despite the dramatic overall growth in this earn-while-you-learn model. And the occupational segregation seen most dramatically when comparing male and female apprentices (and, to a lesser degree, when comparing Black apprentices to white apprentices) has resulted in significant differences in earnings and limits on advancement opportunities.
Making Apprenticeship More Equitable for Young People Requires Intentional Change
Increasing diversity and equity in apprenticeship will require intentional action on a systemic level as well as within apprenticeship programs themselves. A detailed discussion of the systemic changes needed to open the doors of apprenticeship to more people of color and women goes beyond the scope of this analysis. Individual apprenticeship programs can make meaningful changes in program design and execution to not only attract and retain more people of color and more women of all backgrounds, but also successfully launch these apprentices into high-wage careers with ample opportunity for advancement.
The data presented in this report reflects all youth in RA and highlights the need for more robust and actionable data. We were unable to determine if the young people identified in the RAPIDS data set were in school, out of school, or in a program targeted to youth. Not only do we need more high-quality quantitative data, but there is also a need for qualitative research to better understand the experiences of young people in the U.S. Registered Apprenticeship system.
Having this information can help make apprenticeships more accessible and equitable for participants. JFF’s Program Design Framework for Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Accessibility in Registered Apprenticeship lays out the design elements critical to supporting diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility at each stage of a Registered Apprenticeship program.
Increasing diversity in apprenticeship is not just the right thing to do; it’s also the smart thing to do. When employers tap into a broader swath of talent, they often see positive return on investment via healthier bottom lines and greater innovation, thanks to the wide range of backgrounds and experiences these apprentices bring to the job.
JFF's analysis is based on a review of RAPIDS data collected in June 2021.
- “Discover Apprenticeship,” Apprenticeship.gov, accessed August 1, 2022, https://www.apprenticeship.gov.
- May Amoyaw and David Brown, Apprenticeship America: An Idea to Reinvent Postsecondary Skills for the Digital Age (Washington, DC: Third Way, June 11, 2018), https://www.thirdway.org/report/apprenticeship-america-an-idea-to-reinvent-postsecondary-skills-for-the-digital-age.
- “FY 2020 Data and Statistics,” U.S. Department of Labor, accessed August 1, 2022, https://www.dol.gov/agencies/eta/apprenticeship/about/statistics/2020.
- “2020 U.S. Population More Racially and Ethnically Diverse Than Measured in 2010,” U.S. Census, accessed August 1, 2022, https://www.census.gov/library/stories/2021/08/2020-united-states-population-more-racially-ethnically-diverse-than-2010.html#:~:text=Prevalence%20Rankings%20and%20Diffusion%20Score,-Prevalence%20rankings%20illustrate&text=The%20Hispanic%20or%20Latino%20population%20was%20the%20second%2Dlargest%20racial,%2Dlargest%20group%20at%2012.1%25.
- Maura Kelly, Lindsey Wilkinson, Maura Pisciotta, and Larry S. Williams, “When Working Hard Is Not Enough for Female and Racial/Ethnic Minority Apprentices in the Highway Trades,” Sociological Forum (June 2015): Vol. 30, No. 2, doi: 10.1111/socf.12169.
- Herbert Hill, “Racial Discrimination in the Nation's Apprenticeship Training Programs,” Phylon (3rd Qtr., 1962): Vol. 23, No. 3, doi: 10.2307/273799; “Together We Can Increase Black Participation in Apprenticeship," JFF, accessed August 1, 2022, https://www.jff.org/what-we-do/impact-stories/center-for-apprenticeship-and-work-based-learning/together-we-can-increase-black-participation-apprenticeship.
- Daniel Kuehn, Diversity and Inclusion in Apprenticeship Expansion, (Washington, DC: Urban Institute, October 2017), https://www.urban.org/sites/default/files/publication/93831/diversity-and-inclusion-in-apprenticeship-expansion.pdf
- For this wage analysis, we included only those youth in a nonincarcerated apprenticeship program who completed their internship and had exit wages between $7.25 and $100 per hour. Wages were inflation adjusted.
Jobs for the Future (JFF) drives transformation of the American workforce and education systems to achieve equitable economic advancement for all. www.jff.org
About JFF’s Center for Apprenticeship & Work-Based Learning
JFF is a national nonprofit that drives transformation in the American workforce and education systems. For nearly 40 years, JFF has led the way in designing innovative and scalable solutions that create access to economic advancement for all. In 2017, JFF launched the Center for Apprenticeship & Work-Based Learning (the Center) to spur mainstream adoption of equitable, innovative, and high-quality apprenticeship and work-based learning programs. The Center works to expand apprenticeship and work-based learning programs into new industries and fosters access and success for a broader, more diverse group of workers. Learn more at www.jff.org/center.
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Learn more at apprenticeship.gov.