Learn more about JFF
Learn more about JFF

Promising Approaches for Connecting Opportunity Youth to Registered Apprenticeships

Learn promising practices in building and growing successful apprenticeship programs for opportunity youth.


Our country needs to find an effective way to help young people from low-income backgrounds prepare for careers that offer opportunities for economic advancement—and the need for successful training strategies has grown more urgent amid the ongoing pandemic. The number of opportunity youth—young people ages 16 to 24 who are neither working nor in school—more than doubled to over 10 million during the pandemic-driven economic downturn of 2020. And while the employment rate for this population did increase amid the stirrings of an economic recovery in 2021, it was still lower than it had been prior to the pandemic in 2019. Moreover, many of those workers are in low-paying jobs with little opportunity for advancement.  

Apprenticeship can provide the training, education, and career preparation opportunities opportunity youth need. It can be an especially effective model for this population because it combines paid work and learning (often for college credit), so participants don’t have to choose between earning money and pursuing an education. It also includes mentoring, which can be important for young people who need to develop essential employability skills—such as the ability to communicate effectively or work as a member of a team—that are best cultivated through trusted relationships. Finally, the apprenticeship model includes progressive stages of accomplishment, and participants are rewarded with pay increases when they master new skills, earn new credentials, or achieve other goals. In short, apprenticeship is a vehicle that can turn young people’s aspirations into rewarding careers. 



Vinz Koller, Social Policy Research Associates

Caleb van Docto, Social Policy Research Associates

Kristin Wolff, Social Policy Research Associates

Vanessa Bennett, JFF

But apprenticeship programs that serve opportunity youth can face challenges. For example:

  • Apprenticeship remains an unfamiliar model for many employers—even those generally supportive of work-based learning and training.
  • Employers can be hesitant to hire opportunity youth.
  • The wraparound supports and services that are essential to keeping young people engaged are often in short supply.
  • Traditional workforce programming models and service strategies often have to be modified with inclusivity and equity in mind to effectively support opportunity youth.

Recruiting opportunity youth has also grown more difficult during the pandemic.

Through an Apprenticeship Expansion and Modernization Fund (AEMF) contract with the U.S. Department of Labor, JFF has been working with community-based organizations, opportunity youth-focused intermediary organizations affiliated with the Aspen Institute Opportunity Youth Forum, workforce development boards, and school districts across the country to expand access to Registered Apprenticeships to opportunity youth. Participating organizations and programs have engaged in several innovative practices to address challenges like those listed above and build local apprenticeship ecosystems. This online resource explores promising approaches and highlights examples of activities and strategies that are producing results in the short term. We have grouped these practices into the following five categories:

As the project progresses, we will keep this resource updated, incorporating additional information that we come across in our research and providing examples of emerging practices that show promise.

We would like to thank the following programs for their time and willingness to share their knowledge with the field:

  • Adams County Workforce and Business Center—Westminster, Colorado
  • Café Reconcile—New Orleans, Louisiana
  • Capital Workforce Partners—Hartford, Connecticut
  • Deep East Texas College and Career Academy—Jasper, Texas
  • Goodwill of North Georgia—Atlanta, Georgia
  • Shenandoah Valley Workforce Development Board—Harrisonburg, Virginia
  • Southeast Michigan Community Alliance / Workforce Intelligence Network—Tyler, Michigan
  • United Way of Greater Atlanta—Atlanta, Georgia
  • Workforce Development Council of Seattle-King County—Seattle, Washington
  • Worksystems—Portland, Oregon
If you would like to learn more or get involved in opportunity youth apprenticeship programs, contact JFF:

About JFF

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. www.jff.org

About JFF’s Center for Apprenticeship & Work-Based Learning

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. We are a trusted advisor to organizations looking to make a meaningful and lasting positive impact in the communities where they live and work.

Developed with the U.S. Department of Labor. Pursuant to the National Apprenticeship Act, the Department of Labor works to expand opportunities related to apprenticeship programs. This project has been funded, either wholly or in part, with federal funds from the U.S. Department of Labor, Employment & Training Administration under the contract number / work order GS-10F-0094X. The contents of this publication do not necessarily reflect the views or policies of the U.S. Department of Labor, nor does mention of trade names, commercial products, or organizations imply endorsement of same by the U.S. government.