This is the fifth component of the Framework for a High-Quality IT Pre-Apprenticeship Program from JFF’s Center for Apprenticeship & Work-Based Learning.
Pre-apprenticeship programs are not only spaces to gain the technical knowledge needed for IT careers, but also essential spaces for participants to explore and identify their interests and career preferences. Exploration guided by career specialists and industry professionals can be invaluable to individuals entering the IT sector, particularly as the field of IT continues to grow and evolve, making it difficult to navigate. For example, cybersecurity jobs have expanded by 94 percent from 2013, compared to 30 percent growth for all IT jobs. In addition, technical skills gained during training can translate to careers across numerous industries that individuals are less likely to identify on their own. Finally, the culture of the IT industry values self-direction, so pre-apprentices who enter the industry are unlikely to get robust career exploration or wraparound support from their new companies, supervisors, or peers to maximize their long-term success.
IT pre-apprenticeship programs should provide orientation to the industry and exposure to a range of occupations, career paths, wages, and information about job opportunities.
In their career exposure activities, IT pre-apprenticeship programs should pay particular attention to the unique structure of IT occupations inside and outside the sector.
High-quality pre-apprenticeship programs in IT should follow the best practices of career exploration from across sectors, including being grounded in local labor market information, incorporating self-assessments, and hosting panel discussions with industry professionals and company showcases. This is especially important in the IT sector, where employer-driven career navigation is uncommon. Programs should be mindful to incorporate activities that provide opportunities to engage with industry professionals at entry, mid, and advanced career points to help clarify pathways to senior positions and expose participants to areas of specialization within occupations. As mentioned above, individuals must also navigate a unique job landscape in which IT jobs are available both at IT companies and other companies with IT needs. High-quality pre-apprenticeship programs can help participants navigate the differences in career pathways to find the best short- and long-term matches for their careers. They can also help orient participants to the range of workplace cultures and norms that exist across different employer types and better prepare them for success in their first job and beyond.
Each career pathway within IT is unique. IT support roles are typically more accessible to individuals without a bachelor’s degree and can provide a foundational knowledge that can support a range of career pathways—from networking to development and cybersecurity—though earnings are lower. Programming occupations employ the most workers across the sector and typically offer higher salaries, but they tend to place greater emphasis on bachelor’s degrees and higher-level skills such as coding. Finally, cybersecurity occupations are experiencing significant growth and unmet employer demand. While they can be accessed from multiple entry points in the sector, long-term advancement typically requires a bachelor’s degree and/or highly specialized credentials (e.g., the CISSP).
IT pre-apprenticeship programs should support exploration of postsecondary credential options aligned with career interests.
IT pre-apprenticeship programs should draw on best practices for postsecondary alignment regardless of industry.
IT is a sector where degrees hold significant value, at times more than industry-recognized credentials do, and so it is important for high-quality pre-apprenticeship programs to explore postsecondary education pathways alongside career pathways. This strategy can expand opportunities for participants to strengthen their ability to effectively connect to IT occupations, even if job placement is not their immediate next step.
Many community colleges offer credit for prior learning to individuals who have earned industry-recognized credentials, which is particularly valuable given the presence of those credentials within IT (see Component 3: Culmination in One or More Industry-Recognized Credentials). For example, Blue Ridge Community College in Virginia awards three credits for the CompTIA A+ certification, while Carroll Community College in Maryland awards six. High-quality pre-apprenticeships should facilitate that credit award for pre-apprentices who are interested in continuing on to a postsecondary degree. Pre-apprenticeships can also partner with community colleges that deliver credentials for credit as a way to meet their instructional needs and offer participants more opportunities for training and credential attainment. For example, community colleges around the country are now offering the Google IT Support Professional Certificate as either a credit course or credit articulation.
IT pre-apprenticeship programs should support participants in developing a career plan that identifies short- and long-term goals, including potential barriers and possible solutions.
IT pre-apprenticeship programs should draw on best practices for career plan development regardless of industry.
IT differs from many other sectors in that it can be particularly difficult to determine what is needed to advance along a targeted career pathway or across occupational pathways. It is not uncommon for participants to become stuck in a specific job and not be able to move beyond it. To preempt this common pitfall, pre-apprenticeships must embed services that help participants create roadmaps from entry-level positions to senior IT positions that leverage education, training, and networking strategies. IT programs should look to best practices from high-quality pre-apprenticeships across sectors, including engaging career coaches, mentors, and alumni, and facilitating events with employers such as job fairs, service activities, or even program open houses.
IT pre-apprenticeship programs should provide wraparound supports such as tutoring and case management, including access to resources for child care, mental health, transportation, and housing.
In addition to supports needed across sectors, IT pre-apprentices need robust academic support and access to computer hardware and software.
While many other types of IT on-ramp training programs do not typically offer wraparound supports, high-quality pre-apprenticeship programs that serve underrepresented populations should address a range of needs such as child care, transportation, housing, and living expenses as a way of supporting persistence. Due to the highly technical and accelerated nature of IT training, academic supports that assist participants who are at risk of falling behind are particularly important. IT pre-apprenticeships can draw on many different best-practice models—from educational specialists providing customized assistance to cohort support for core academic content, to the provision of individual tutoring and extracurricular activities.
In addition to general case management and resource needs, IT pre-apprentices may also lack access to technology and materials needed to complete training. High-quality pre-apprenticeships should dedicate program resources, access Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act supportive service funding, use philanthropic grants, or leverage employer partnerships to fund computer and software purchases for participants.