This is the first component of the Framework for a High-Quality IT Pre-Apprenticeship Program from JFF’s Center for Apprenticeship & Work-Based Learning.
IT pre-apprenticeship programs should be made as accessible as possible for all participants interested in IT careers without compromising their ability to succeed after completing the program. In such a high-skill industry, this requires programs to determine how much they can achieve in a limited time to bridge the starting points of future IT professionals to the needs of employers. Pre-apprenticeships should begin by working with aligned Registered Apprenticeship programs and employers to identify the fundamental competencies and traits that are essential for beginning IT career pathways. From there, high-quality pre-apprenticeship programs should integrate program elements that address the technical and nontechnical challenges of entering the IT sector.
Pre-apprenticeship programs should clearly articulate entry requirements, including stipulations on any academic prerequisites, employability skills, and social-emotional skills.
The entry requirements that IT pre-apprenticeship programs communicate before enrollment should include eligibility requirements that define the target population, such as residency and age, as well as academic prerequisites, technical skills, and any other necessary qualifications.
Because many apprenticeships and other advanced training programs require higher literacy and numeracy proficiencies for entry, pre-apprenticeship programs must ensure that participants meet these standards by the end of their training. Pre-apprenticeships that focus on closing education gaps should clearly outline the reading and math proficiencies needed for entry, and should have a clear strategy in place to help participants make the necessary gains to progress into an apprenticeship or career pathway. Apprenticeships and employers also generally require a high school diploma or GED. A secondary credential should not be required for acceptance into a pre-apprenticeship program that is able to help participants earn these credentials while completing training. If a pre-apprenticeship program lacks the capacity or infrastructure to support attainment of a diploma or GED, either by providing the credential in-house or through a partnership with an external provider, it should emphasize a secondary credential as a requirement for enrollment.
Employability and Soft Skills
Given the rapid technological evolution of the IT sector and the competencies needed to advance within the industry, the most important employability skills for individuals entering an IT pre-apprenticeship program is adaptability and an openness to learning new skills. Pre-apprentices can then develop additional employability skills sought by IT employers such as effective communication, teamwork, and critical thinking in the context of IT careers during their training (see Component 2: Alignment with Skills Sought by Local Employers and High-Quality Apprenticeship Programs).
Familiarity with IT hardware and software sets participants up for success in IT pre-apprenticeship programs. However, a lack of technical skills gained through formal training should not be a barrier to entry into an IT pre-apprenticeship. Prior technical knowledge gained through hobbyist exposure can help jump-start successful participation in an IT pre-apprenticeship program and help participants progress during the training program. IT pre-apprenticeship programs should advise participants during enrollment about the technical skills that will be developed through their training, as well as the requirements of aligned apprenticeships. Participants should receive advice on whether a pre-apprenticeship program will prepare them for direct entry into the workforce or if additional training is required for a pathway.
IT pre-apprenticeship programs should clearly articulate expectations for participation, such as self-management, persistence skills, and other success requirements.
The high demands and skills of the jobs require that pre-apprenticeship programs assess candidate readiness, while avoiding a process that adds unnecessary burden.
IT is a highly skilled industry that expects workers to be self-directed, and so high-quality pre-apprenticeship programs should both assess candidates for their readiness for successful participation and further develop those skills. Program recruitment and assessment strategies should align with the required employability skills (above) and should additionally incorporate a comprehensive approach to evaluate traits and skills need for entry into the training program.
Information sessions and orientations engage interested participants and provide candidates opportunities to self-assess readiness for training. Best practices include incorporating a variety of voices such as instructors, alumni, and employers to inform prospective participants of expectations, resources, and benefits of attending and completing pre-apprenticeship.
Multistep applications are common among IT on-ramp training programs, because of the high demands of the sector. Common activities include personal profile creation, pre-testing and assessments, and interviews. This allows programs to better gauge individual strengths and growth areas and identify needs across incoming cohorts. Multistep applications are also deployed by apprenticeship programs and employers, providing an opportunity to model the steps participants will experience when applying to future career opportunities. While this strategy can be useful for evaluation and engagement, pre-apprenticeship programs should embed as many of these activities within the actual pre-apprenticeship training as possible, avoiding an extended application period that can discourage entry.
IT pre-apprenticeship programs should clearly articulate requirements for successful transition from the pre-apprenticeship program to at least one apprenticeship program, including skills, credentials, and other aspects that ensure access to stable employment (such as a driver’s license, fees, drug testing, or GED).
The most common requirements for IT apprenticeships and employment are a secondary credential, prerequisite coursework, baseline technical knowledge, and targeted, relevant, industry-recognized credentials.
IT pre-apprenticeship programs should be forward-thinking and begin preparing participants for the next step of their careers starting at enrollment. As with other sectors, best practices include incorporating career exploration into pre-enrollment work with interested participants and clearly articulating the industry-specific credentials required to enter an IT occupation (see section 3).
IT pre-apprenticeship programs should also work with participants to understand all aspects of the application processes for apprenticeships and training programs, particularly technical demonstrations. Application segments such as problem-solving challenges and prerequisite coursework are common in IT and can create barriers to advancement if participants are not exposed to strategies for applying knowledge gained during pre-apprenticeship. To prepare participants for transitions, IT pre-apprenticeship programs can use case managers, coaches, or mentors to advise participants and prepare them to navigate technical demonstrations.
IT pre-apprenticeship programs should identify and flag for participants which requirements, such as physical capabilities or absence of specific criminal convictions, cannot be overcome through program supports, and should work with Registered Apprenticeship sponsors to add accessibility by removing these barriers whenever possible.
Because security is a core concern across the IT industry, many IT employers will not hire candidates who have a criminal record.
As with any pre-apprenticeship program, IT pre-apprenticeships should clearly articulate any participant barriers that cannot be addressed by technical training or case management. Related to an industry-wide focus on cybersecurity, IT apprenticeships and early-career employment commonly require applicants to possess no felonies or misdemeanors of a violent nature and to have an ability to work in a drug-free work environment. High-quality pre-apprenticeships should designate staff to work with participants, the local justice systems, and employer and community partners to address barriers related to these requirements and pursue systemic advocacy supports. While outcomes may not be immediate, it is important to work toward more long-term equitable employment practices. This will serve to increase access to career pathway opportunities in the tech sector. Pre-apprenticeships should also explore IT jobs and pathways in other industries where employers are more open to working with and supporting workers with criminal records.
IT pre-apprenticeship programs should implement strategies to help participants address gaps in requirements for entry into an apprenticeship. Pre-apprenticeship programs are intended to be as accessible as possible, while the IT industry has higher barriers to entry than many other sectors.
IT pre-apprenticeship programs should focus program design on apprenticeship and employment requirements that they are best positioned to bridge.
As in all sectors, high-quality IT pre-apprenticeship programs should have clear strategies for helping participants evaluate their starting point and progress, identify gaps in their skills, and effectively close these gaps with additional academic and technical training. JFF does not recommend specific tools, but the Test for Adult Basic Education (TABE) and WorkKeys are among the most common for evaluating potential academic and technical skills.
Because of the high skill requirements in the industry, IT candidates may be more likely than in other sectors to require support in building foundational skills before entering a pre-apprenticeship as well as in preparation for transition to IT apprenticeship programs. High-quality pre-apprenticeships provide additional support for individuals who have demonstrated potential and growth yet fall short of requirement cutoffs, or they partner with another provider who can offer remediation and serve as a bridge into the pre-apprenticeship. Unlike other sectors where pre-apprenticeship often serves as the first step, IT pathways are more likely to benefit from on-ramps prior to pre-apprenticeship for academic skill building, digital literacy, or a basic introduction to technology.