By Megan Sayles

AFRO Business Writer

An integral component of the city’s current economic development strategy, Baltimore Together is building a stronger workforce system. To achieve this, the plan pushes for a more robust integration of the school and labor systems—advocating for greater apprenticeship and employment opportunities for youth. 

During Baltimore Development Corp.’s Baltimore Together Summit on Oct. 30, leaders from the Maryland Apprenticeship Connector (MAC), Baltimore City Public Schools and the Mayor’s Office of Employment Development discussed the importance and benefits of training and hiring youth. 

“Right now, only 25 percent of Marylanders actually have a college degree within five years of graduating from high school, so the idea that college is the only pathway is a fallacy. If you look at Switzerland, their youth unemployment rates are almost nothing compared to the rest of the world and it’s because of registered apprenticeship and the fact that it’s seen as a viable pathway to a career just like college,” said Jennifer Dewees, co-founder of MAC. “As soon as we start getting behind that idea here in Maryland, we are going to see a major change.” 

Dewees provided statistics to illustrate the advantages apprenticeship programs produce for employers. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the overall turnover rate was 57.3 percent in 2021, 25 percent of which was voluntary. But, 90 percent of apprentices stayed with their employers. 

She said that businesses with internship programs can come to MAC to transform them into registered apprenticeships. 

Experts say exposing youth to apprenticeship opportunities in trades such as carpentry can provide a viable pathway to a career just like college.  (Photo by Freepik)

“If we partner with Baltimore City Public Schools to make sure that we are employing their students before they graduate and before there’s somebody that’s struggling to make ends meet, it makes sense in every aspect,” said Dewees. 

Joni Holifield, founder and president of HeartSmiles, said apprenticeships have the potential to ease the economic crisis young people are facing. Her organization supports youth with mentorship, leadership skills training and access to internships and careers. 

“Young people are in an economic crisis. A lot of them just can’t afford to be in any space where they aren’t earning some money–and not just so they can do fun things,” said Holifield. “A lot of them are literally putting food on the table for their families. They’re helping to keep the roof over their heads so they don’t have to sleep on the bus stops.” 

She thinks compensating young people for skills training and workforce development shows them that their time is valuable. 

Kumasi Vines, director of career readiness for Baltimore City Public Schools, described the value that city students can bring to companies as a result of Career and Technical Education (CTE) programs. The school system offers pathways that include manufacturing, information technology, construction, media and health and bioscience. 

Most of the city’s CTE programs prepare students to graduate with a workforce credential.

“You may not have a young person with years and years of experience, but you have someone that can send a tweet for you and that is coming with Adobe Suite certifications, Microsoft Office certifications or a plumbing certificate,” said Vines. 

Vines also warned employers to refrain from giving young people tough love. 

“It doesn’t need to be tough. These are young people,” said Vines. “We’re investing in the future of this city, so we can take the tough part out and just do the love.” 

Megan Sayles is a Report For America Corps member.