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You might think apprenticeships are a relic from an earlier era, but a growing number of Americans are using them as a way into the middle class.

South Carolina has bet heavily on apprenticeships. The state gives employers tax incentives to hire apprentices and is trying to steer young people — some only 16 years old — into apprenticeship programs. Proponents of apprenticeships, which include Trump administration officials looking to expand their use, hold up South Carolina as a national model for how to provide companies with skilled employees and workers with a good living.

But critics also caution that while apprenticeships are a good option for some students, they aren’t a panacea for the nation’s widening wealth gap. As public investment in higher education falls and tuition climbs, apprenticeships are one of the few paths for students from poor families to enter the middle class. And it is a path controlled not by educators or policy-makers but by businesses.

A new APM Reports documentary “Old Idea, New Economy: Rediscovering Apprenticeships” profiles people who went looking for jobs in the new economy and chose an apprenticeship instead of college — or in addition to college. We’ll meet 34-year-old Paul Robling who’s using an apprenticeship to make a career change. After high school, Robling tried the Army, then college, but like a fifth of American adults over 25, he left college with no degree.

“I couldn’t make the same mistake twice,” said Robling. “I had to find a way of doing something with very little college required.”

Seventeen-year-old Sheniah Everson, a high school junior, is getting a jumpstart on her nursing career with a youth apprenticeship at a local hospital while earning a degree from a local technical college.  “I always knew that I would end up taking a couple college classes,” Everson said. “But I never thought that I’d be graduating with my associate degree before I get my high school diploma.”

Lastly, we’ll spend time in Los Angeles where women and ex-offenders are trying to pry open the pipeline to valuable apprenticeships in the building trades.

Listen here on the Educate Podcast and subscribe on iTunes or wherever you get your podcasts to hear all APM Reports documentaries.

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