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Maryland to Scale Youth Apprenticeship Opportunities with $12M Investment

A new grant program uses COVID stimulus funds to expand the state’s work-based learning infrastructure

A stock photo of an Engineer showing equipment to a young apprentice

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Maryland will invest $12 million to expand apprenticeship opportunities for high school students, the State Department of Education announced Tuesday.

The new grant program, Maryland Works, will disperse pandemic stimulus funds to school districts and nonprofits with plans to scale up work-based learning. It comes as the state already has set a 2030-31 benchmark of 45% of students statewide graduating with a completed registered apprenticeship program under their belt. 

The goal is part of Maryland’s ambitious Blueprint legislation, which puts an emphasis on real-world learning in high school. Now, just 7% of the state’s high school students graduate with such apprenticeship credentials.

State Superintendent Mohammed Choudhury acknowledges the challenge, explaining the state will have to “accelerate real fast.” He hopes this grant program will give districts the chance to make their schedules more accommodating to out-of-school learning and simultaneously help local partners set aside more apprenticeship positions for students.

“If you build it, they will come. You’ve got to create the apprenticeship slots. You’ve got to get employers wanting to do this,” Choudhury said. “You can’t put students in apprenticeships that don’t exist.”

In a press release, U.S. Secretary of Labor Marty Walsh cheered the announcement, saying it has the potential to “lift [Maryland] schools out of the pandemic and sustain progress for years to come.” 

“Youth apprenticeship programs are pivotal to creating and sustaining robust workforce pipelines that align with industry needs and drive economic success,” he added.

The U.S. government has put recent emphasis on expanding access to such opportunities, particularly in teaching, which was added to the list of federal registered apprenticeship programs in 2021. In August, Education Secretary Miguel Cardona sent a Dear Colleague letter urging districts to roll out paid teacher training apprenticeship programs for their students.

Apprenticeships, especially those that rely on local businesses, require a significant amount of coordination between schools, regional government and the surrounding community — a cultural shift and “energy” Choudhury said he hopes to spur with this grant.

To align schools with local businesses and connect students with opportunities, some states rely on what the state superintendent calls “backbone” organizations, often nonprofits. One notable example is CareerWise, which began in Colorado and has since expanded nationwide. 

No such intermediary organization yet exists in Maryland, said Justin Dayhoff, the state education department’s chief financial officer. But he hopes the new grant program may entice the creation of regional groups or even a statewide entity.

One Maryland school system, the 22,000-student Washington County Public Schools, is leading the way on job-embedded learning, said Choudhury. He estimates that 1 in 4 youth participating in registered apprenticeships statewide are enrolled in the district.

The district recently hired an apprenticeship coordinator, explained communications officer Erin Anderson. Thanks to the new hire’s work recruiting students and local businesses, the program “has literally just exploded,” Anderson said. Students work anywhere from two to six hours per day on site, she estimates, and often make more than $20 an hour.

Suzie Winder is principal at Cascade Elementary in Washington County, where a group of high school apprentices come to work as reading tutors.

“It’s a win-win for everybody in the building,” she said in a video describing the program.

Paris Rice, a high schooler in the district who works as an apprentice medical secretary at a local hospital, said she appreciates the chance to apply her studies to a real-world setting.

“I’m expanding on the skills that I learned in my [biomedical] class by actually doing it in real life rather than just studying it in a textbook,” she said.

Anderson suspects the economy has been a factor in her district’s apprenticeship success, presenting an opportunity for other school systems, as well.

“An overall labor shortage nationwide has really led to more employers being interested in even hiring high school students,” she said. “We’re really meeting the demands of the workforce.”

The grant proposals most likely to be selected as Maryland Works recipients are those that, like Washington County, invest local resources into the program and don’t rely solely on one-time state funding, Choudhury explained.

“The strongest applicants … are going to be those that want to sustain this and make it stick to the bones,” he said.

Applications are open through April 3.

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