By Cynthia Walker, Senior Consultant, Institute of Workplace Skills and Innovation America (IWSI)
Meet Isaiah Parsons, a 22-year-old Missouri builder who has already been working in the industry for four year
Meet Isaiah Parsons, a 22-year-old Missouri builder who has already been working in the industry for four years. He’s also been awarded a nationally recognized qualification, as well as being a supervisor and manager. His secret to success? The Missouri Registered Youth Apprenticeship Program (RYA).
While still at high school, Isaiah started out at the very bottom, sweeping buildings before tackling carpentry after about six months. He worked hard and is now among the 75 qualified apprentices who’ve completed one of Missouri’s 26 RYA programs. The program is for 16- to 21-year-olds in high school or post-secondary education, and participants start their apprenticeship while still in junior high school.
I’m honored to have had a role in supporting Isaiah and many other young apprentices through the RYA program. That’s the work I do as a Senior Apprenticeship Consultant with IWSI America and we work with the Missouri Dept of Labor office, and that state’s Department of Higher Education of Workforce Development.
Leah Schulte is another graduate of the RYA program. Like Isaiah, she also received a higher starting wage because of her apprenticeship agreement with her employer. As a 17-year-old new apprentice, she was “scared to get into nursing”. But the program gave her hands-on experience working with real-life patients and people. This boosted her confidence. Leah graduated three years ago and is carving out a great career in nursing.
My role with IWSI involved supporting Isaiah, Leah, and other young apprentices closely as they navigated educational and career bumps and curves.
I recommended Isaiah and Leah as great models for breaking down generational barriers and misconceptions due to their maturity, work ethic, and highly successful careers that started before they graduated from high school.
A study from the Pew Research Center shows that Millennials aren’t necessarily job hoppers, as people might assume. Their job tenure is pretty much the same as workers over the past four decades. Pew found about half of 18-to-34-year-olds have been with the same employer for three or more years.
It’s been a privilege to be involved in the RYA program over the past five years – Isaiah and Leah are part of my local community. We learned together from when the RYA program was a pilot to now when it’s fully fledged. I’ve been chuffed to assist many high schools and career center RYA startups to help expand this program nationally through the Youth Apprenticeship Initiative. IWSI and the Urban Institute are driving that.
It’s part of the nationwide momentum to foreground youth apprenticeships. On March 9, then Secretary of Labor, Marty Walsh, launched his department’s Youth Employment Works Strategy, which includes a ‘no wrong door policy’. It’s all about enhancing entry points for young workers, getting the public and private sectors to collaborate on forging youth career pathways. It is a big deal. I love that it’s put right up there the need to offer guaranteed paid work that is safe and age appropriate. Check out more from the Bureau of Labor’s blog.
This strategy is much-needed. According to Trading Economics, the youth unemployment rate in our country rose to 8.10% in February from 8% a month earlier. It’s higher for 16-to-19-year-olds, hitting 11.1% in February, says Statista. That’s one in nine teens. We can’t sit on our hands while this potential goes wasted.
It was really warming that Isaiah and Leah were among the youth featured at the strategy launch to represent the state of Missouri. Their presence highlighted the power of the RYA program to create meaningful pathways for young apprentices.
Our nation needs a workforce with people like Isaiah and Leah. That’s why it’s so important to prioritize investment in the next generation and mentor them into career paths beyond high school graduation.
If you’re an employer or industry association looking to build your talent pipeline with youth apprentices, please contact me and IWSI America for your next step. I can save you time with well-honed tips, shortcuts, and suggestions about funding options from my years in this field.