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At 59 NYC high schools, a chance for tech and finance apprenticeships up to $25 an hour

September 13, 2022 Alex Zimmerman, Chalkbeat New York
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To help prepare students for careers, New York City is launching an apprenticeship program that aims to place 3,000 students in companies focused on finance, technology and business operations over the next three years, officials announced Monday.

Since taking the helm of the nation’s largest school system in January, Chancellor David Banks repeatedly promised he would bolster internships, hands-on work experiences, and partnerships with major corporations. Monday’s announcement represents the first glimpse of that approach.

“Too often schools aren’t speaking to students’ passion and purpose or connecting the learning to the real world,” Banks said during a press conference at JPMorgan Chase headquarters in Manhattan, flanked by CEOs including JPMorgan’s Jamie Dimon and Accenture’s Julie Sweet.

High school students are often “going through the motions” with their school work, but “have no clue what it means,” Banks said. “How does it connect to the real world?” This program, he said, will address that by providing “real-world skills” and giving students a “head start” as they look to college and careers.

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At 59 high schools, ninth and 10th graders will get access to a “career readiness” curriculum that includes how to use Microsoft Office, build a resume, and successfully complete a job interview, said Barbara Chang, executive director of CareerWise New York, which is partnering with the education department to operate the program. Students will also go on field trips to job sites in Manhattan.

About 3,000 students at the 59 schools — generally rising juniors and seniors — will be selected by employers for more intensive apprenticeships that will run between two and three years, and which will pay from $15 to $25 an hour. Students will work as apprentices for 15-20 hours a week during the regular school day, education department officials said.

Sophomores from these schools can begin applying this spring for apprenticeships that will kick off this coming summer, education department officials said.

A handful of companies have preliminarily agreed to hire apprentices, including JPMorgan, Ernst & Young, Accenture, Amazon, MasterCard, and the Brooklyn Navy Yard. Students are not guaranteed employment or a credential at the end of their apprenticeships, though officials hope that it will or provide a stepping stone to lucrative careers.

Chang acknowledged that some participants are likely to pursue college even if they’re offered a job at the end of their apprenticeships, a common occurrence among the students who have previously participated in CareerWise New York’s existing apprenticeship programs, which first launched in 2019. She said she hopes programs like these help funnel more students directly into work.

“It’s going to take awhile to unroot this whole ‘college for all’ thing that doesn’t seem to be working,” Chang said.

Other large school systems are also doubling down on career and technical education, including Chicago, which has highlighted those programs in its three-year “blueprint” for the district. In New York, Mayor Eric Adams and Banks seem to be moving in that direction, too. Banks said the apprenticeship program was just one prong of the administration’s career-focused approach, with more details available in “the coming weeks.”

Some outside observers applauded the apprenticeships, saying these opportunities are long overdue.

“It’s about time that the city invested more in youth apprenticeship work,” said Kevin Stump, the vice president of economic mobility and workforce innovation at Rockland Community College. “Apprenticeships are able to blur the lines and provide a pathways approach for a more seamless transition” from high school to careers, he said.

Still, Stump noted that the 3,000 apprenticeships at 59 high schools over three years is “a drop in the bucket” and wondered about the city’s plans to scale up. There are roughly 288,000 students across more than 400 public high schools.

Experts said it will be important to track which schools and students are ultimately selected to ensure that the programs are benefitting students who have historically lacked access to more prestigious career paths.

“Now that they’re adding in opportunities that lead to higher-paying employment, the students that tend to get access to those programs tend to come from higher-income backgrounds and that are higher achievers” said Elisabeth Kim, a professor at California State University, Monterey Bay, who has studied career and technical programs.

City officials selected 59 schools out of 100 applicants, using a range of criteria in their final picks, including college enrollment and poverty rates “to ensure resources were distributed equitably.” Officials declined to provide a list of participating schools but said it would be available this week.

The program will be jointly funded by public and private sources. The city is contributing $33 million for a range of career-oriented programs, including this one, and Bloomberg Philanthropies is kicking in $8 million. (Bloomberg Philanthropies also supports Chalkbeat.) Several other private organizations are involved, including JPMorgan Chase, Accenture, and Robin Hood.

An education department spokesperson said the department plans to evaluate the program, but has not yet finalized the specific metrics that will be assessed.

Dimon, the JPMorgan CEO, said the program should be judged “on the outcome not the money spent,” including how many students find jobs at companies like his or complete college programs.

“I’ve been doing efforts like this for the better part of 30 years,” Dimon said. “We’re going to measure and report. We may fall short, but it’s not going to be for lack of trying.”

Chalkbeat is a nonprofit news site covering educational change in public schools.

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