Many Americans lack the financial knowledge to navigate the modern economy and avoid financial hardship. While information regarding the costs and benefits of financial choices is readily available, many people enter the workforce without knowing how to convert that information into sound decisionmaking. Furthermore, financial education efforts have shown mixed results, and turning classroom theory into lasting habits remains difficult.
In this report, we explore approaches that incorporate financial education into youth apprenticeship programs. Based on interviews with more than a dozen youth apprenticeship coordinators in Wisconsin and Georgia, we find that integrated financial education is the exception in youth apprenticeship, but we find broad support for the idea that apprentices would benefit from it.
Lessons from Our Research
Youth apprentices encounter money management challenges, such as paying taxes, deciding how much to save, and charting a career plan. These are salient and unavoidable “teachable moments” in which apprenticeship staff could share facts and advice or model effective habits or thought processes. Students need to understand budgeting, interest rates, compound interest, banking fees, the importance of a rainy-day fund, and savings strategies for large purchases or down payments.
Here are elements of financial education we believe are important for youth apprentices:
- Soft skills: Practicing job interviewing, writing, basic technology, professionalism, respectful communications, and other skills helps students prepare for the workplace.
- Role models and home-based learning: Good financial habits aren’t simply textbook facts to be memorized. They’re formed in part by observing effective behavior, which often begins at home. For teens who don’t experience this at home, teachers can be role models. Teachers who discuss their own behavior or talk through real-life scenarios convey financial knowledge in a tangible and memorable way.
- Human capital planning: Students need to consider the financial impact of their career and higher education choices, including the cost of college and the possibilities for salary growth. Apprentices should view the benefits of occupational expertise obtained through apprenticeship and related education alongside the benefits and costs of pursuing university education. Students should be exposed to resources that foster an informed, deliberate, and forward-looking discussion about their human capital growth.
- Entrepreneurship: Programs can address the potential for and emphasize the skills associated with entrepreneurship. Extracurricular business-planning projects, under the supervision of experienced mentors, are a promising approach.
- Access to banks, work sites, and resources: Access to financial tools also begins at home. Access to a bank should not be hereditary. Youth apprenticeship programs can help ensure students have access to financial resources to get a foot in the financial door.
- Coaching apprentices: Financial education teachers and apprenticeship staff can be coaches to help apprentices put lessons into practice. An ideal coach believes all apprentices can succeed given the right resources, and identifies and builds on the strengths of each student while helping him or her overcome challenges.
- Teaching strategies: It is important to “train the trainer”; a financial education teacher’s experience and competence, as well as his or her pedagogical techniques, affect the quality of the classes. One effective technique is encouraging in-class dialogue to help students relate lessons to their own experiences.
- Goal setting: To jump-start effective financial habits (e.g., saving), youth apprenticeship staff can encourage apprentices to set goals. Staff can leverage positive peer pressure to help apprentices stay on track and help students talk through challenges.
- Evaluation: Program staff or outside researchers should track the effects of various approaches to financial education so that best practices can be shared.
A Holistic Experience
Youth apprenticeship programs should take a holistic approach. Youth apprenticeship offers high school students a chance to learn advanced occupational and employability skills in a workplace setting while earning a salary and contributing to production. Adding financial education and practice interventions to youth apprenticeship programs can round out and enhance the apprenticeship experience, increase participants’ maturity and skills, contribute substantially to developing American youth, and increase financial knowledge across the United States.