INDIANAPOLIS – More than 100 Indiana leaders, including corporate CEOs, university presidents, K-12 superintendents and state government officials, have joined a coalition to develop a statewide modern youth apprenticeship system in Indiana as one potential solution to the state’s mounting workforce crisis.

The group recently kicked off a 10-month Implementation Lab (referred to as an iLab), an intensive collaborative that will result in a comprehensive, statewide plan to increase the number of available modern youth apprenticeships. The youth apprenticeship model allows 11th grade high school students to participate in a three-year, paid work-and-learn program. The apprenticeship culminates in a high school diploma, college credit and an industry credential, while at the same time preparing students for in-demand careers. CEMETS iLab Indiana is the brainchild of Ursula Renold, Ph.D., and Katie Caves, Ph.D., of the Center on Economics and Management of Education and Training Systems (CEMETS) at ETH Zurich, who are considered the preeminent experts in workplace learning research and implementation.

Indiana’s long-standing talent shortages worsened during the pandemic and are projected to increase due to an aging population and only a 63% labor force participation rate. Further, by 2031, 72% of jobs in the U.S. will require postsecondary education and/or training. Indiana is not on track to meet that need, with only 39% of Hoosier adults 25 years and over having an associate degree or higher. To complicate matters, college enrollment in Indiana declined from 65% in 2015 to 53% in 2021. All told, for each high school graduating class, only about 30% earn a college degree – meaning 70% enter the labor market without a degree or credential.

“We must take bold action to reform Indiana’s education and workforce development system to deliver better outcomes for individuals, employers and the state’s economy,” said David Becker, chairman and chief executive officer of First Internet Bank and co-chair of CEMETS iLab Indiana. “By forming this unprecedented coalition and increasing apprenticeship opportunities, we can change the trajectory of Indiana’s workforce issues and strengthen our state’s economy.”

The iLab’s members – listed below – include leaders in business, education, government and philanthropy, many of whom became supporters of the modern youth apprenticeship movement during a September 2023 Indy Chamber Leadership Exchange trip to see Switzerland’s system in action. The Swiss are internationally recognized for their system, with two-thirds of 10th graders entering a three- or four-year paid apprenticeship from about 250 different occupations spanning all sectors of the economy.

While on the trip, Claire Fiddian-Green, president and CEO of the Richard M. Fairbanks Foundation and iLab co-chair, announced a $180,000 grant that would allow CEMETS to host an iLab in Indiana. “CEMETS iLab Indiana will support stakeholders working to scale modern youth apprenticeship programs both in the Indianapolis region and statewide,” said Fiddian-Green. “By making Indiana a leader in work-based learning, we’re seeking to become a top destination for employers looking to expand existing businesses and entrepreneurs working to launch new businesses.”

The iLab’s members are divided into committees that focus on the roles of relevant stakeholder groups – employers, high schools and higher education institutions. The iLab is specifically targeting how to scale youth apprenticeship across three industry groupings – banking and insurance, life sciences and healthcare, and advanced manufacturing, all of which face increasing talent shortages. Also, a key deliverable of the iLab is the recommendation of a governing and operating structure that can oversee the work to scale youth apprenticeship statewide, eventually spanning all sectors of Indiana’s economy.

Because of the Fairbanks Foundation’s years-long investment to bring the modern youth apprenticeship system to Indiana, it is providing subject matter expertise and partnering with CEMETS leadership to oversee the iLab from inception to completion. Ascend Indiana, the talent and workforce development initiative of Central Indiana Corporate Partnership, is providing project management for iLab committees, offering opportunities for industry leaders to see apprenticeships in action, and coordinating convenings of iLab stakeholders. The Indy Chamber is conducting an industry occupation analysis to inform the iLab’s work and will develop a plan for how to communicate about modern youth apprenticeship to employers and other stakeholders.

To fund the management of the iLab, the Fairbanks Foundation awarded a $100,000 grant to the Indy Chamber, and a portion of the Fairbanks Foundation’s existing $6 million grant to Ascend Indiana is being used to fund their work with the iLab. Ascend will also support industry-specific trips for iLab committee members.

“iLab Indiana is key to unlocking the ability for our state to meet talent needs by connecting many more youth with work-based learning opportunities,” said Melina Kennedy, CEO, Central Indiana Corporate Partnership. “CICP is well-positioned to support this coalition through its industry sector initiatives. Further, Ascend brings a unique perspective to coordinate this effort given their expertise as a workforce intermediary that also convenes a statewide youth apprenticeship community of practice.”

"Our current system isn't meeting the needs of students, employers or the state. The modern youth apprenticeship model is a unique opportunity to invest in homegrown Hoosier talent and to meet the needs of tomorrow's economy," said Matt Mindrum, president and CEO, Indy Chamber. "Together, we can position Indiana as a leader and innovator in education reform and workforce development.”

The ultimate goal of CEMETS iLab Indiana is to ensure that by 2034, every student and adult learner in Indiana has access to high-quality education and training options. Reaching this goal will enable all Hoosiers to discover their passions, reach their fullest potential, and meaningfully contribute to the economic and civic vitality of their communities.