Getting a Head Start on Career Education: Mary Alice McCarthy of New America Explains How Work-Based Learning Can Be Better Implemented in K12

In the 21st century, the world of work is constantly changing. This podcast series, Reimagining Career Pathways, will explore the needs of the future workforce, rethinking traditional education pathways to connect students today with the in-demand jobs and skills of the future.

While in many ways academics and college preparation have become increasingly more rigorous over the years, the path to entering the labor market is still enigmatic to many young people today. According to Mary Alice McCarthy, director of the Center on Education and Skills at New America, exposing young people to career options early on can give them a better idea of what fields they want to work in when they start, and, most importantly, graduate from college.

“A lot of students enrolled in college really don’t have a good sense of how you move into the labor market,” says Mary Alice. “We don’t give students enough opportunities to learn in very practical and sort of hands-on ways about careers in different professions.”

“Sometimes their understanding of sort of what jobs or careers are out there are limited to what their parents do, or what sort of close relatives do, and that can be pretty limiting.”

Apprenticeship programs provide hands-on job experience, at little cost. So why aren’t apprenticeship programs a more-popular option in lieu of, or in conjunction with, a college degree? Mary Alice says that the biggest obstacle to the growth of U.S. apprenticeships is that programs can be difficult for students to find.

“We have high schools and colleges in every single community in the United States. This is where young people are. This is where everyone goes to get education and skills. Ironically, in the United States our apprenticeship system has developed completely independently and sort of separate from our formal education system. And I would say that is the biggest single barrier on its growth and expansion today.”

Listen in to our interview with Mary Alice McCarthy and guest host Kevin Fudge of ASA to learn more about what can be done to expand career education options and break down the stigma against apprenticeship programs.

This podcast episode is sponsored by American Student Assistance®. ASA® is a national nonprofit committed to helping kids know themselves, know their options, and make informed choices to achieve their education and career goals. To learn more about ASA, visit

Hannah Nyren

Hannah Nyren

Hannah Nyren is the General Manager of EdTech Times. A Texan by birth but a Bostonian at heart, Hannah is an educational writer, AmeriCorps alum, and one-time StartupWeekend EDU (SWEDU) winning team member. She started her career at a Pearson-incubated edtech startup, but has since covered travel, food & culture, and even stonemasonry in addition to education.