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Modern Apprenticeships Need Modern Preparation: Five Reasons States Should Recognize Pre-Apprenticeship Programs

November 12, 2021

At a Glance

As Registered Apprenticeship grows, pre-apprenticeships provide a new entry point into the workforce for a new generation of learners and workers.

Registered Apprenticeship is rapidly growing, and more industries, like IT and health care, are embracing it as a strategy to address critical workforce challenges. As apprenticeship expands into modern, high-demand industries, there is a need for more robust, high-quality pre-apprenticeships to prepare workers for new careers and to drive equity and access in these sectors.

Pre-apprenticeship plays a key role in preparing participants for Registered Apprenticeship (RA) training, and in preparing workers for new occupations in new industries. When developed and implemented properly, it can serve as a critical pathway into well-paid jobs, support long-term career advancement, and increase diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility in the workforce. Pre-apprenticeship has long been a valuable mechanism in the construction trades for engaging populations that face longstanding and structural barriers to entry into the workforce, including people of color, women of all backgrounds, justice-involved individuals, out-of-school youth, and people with disabilities. Its growing popularity in other industries, including health care, IT, hospitality, and green jobs, underscores the importance of bringing clarity and consistency to program and training design.

Formally recognizing pre-apprenticeship programs in alignment with consistent quality standards would drive diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility in the apprenticeship system and the broader workforce.

To increase access to RA programs, JFF calls for the formal recognition of pre-apprenticeship programs at the state and federal levels.

Now is a perfect moment to advance the formal recognition or certification of pre-apprenticeships. There is significant national interest in elevating this training model, as seen in the current iteration of the National Apprenticeship Act (NAA). States can take advantage of this groundswell of momentum to strengthen the impact of this training model and improve outcomes for participants.

Already, several states across the country provide formal recognition or certification of pre-apprenticeships that meet minimum quality standards. Oregon, Washington, and Wisconsin are longstanding leaders in this space and have served as strong examples of how to recognize pre-apprenticeship for other states. Additional states include Alabama, California, Connecticut, Florida, Hawaii, Idaho, Michigan, Montana, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, and Tennessee.

For those that have not yet made this step, below are five ways that formal recognition could enhance pre-apprenticeship training in your state:

  1. Bring consistency to programs. Without a formal recognition process that defines consistent standards, pre-apprenticeship programs can take many forms. This results in inconsistencies in the quality of training and can make employers hesitant to engage with the model. JFF’s Framework for a High-Quality Pre-Apprenticeship Program, based on elements outlined in the U.S. Department of Labor’s Training and Employment Notice (TEN 13-12) and Training and Employment Guidance Letter (TEGL 13-16), identifies these six characteristics as essential elements for an effective program:* Transparent entry and success requirements
    * Alignment with skills sought by local employers and high-quality apprenticeship programs
    * Culmination in one or more industry-recognized credentials
    * Development of skills through hands-on activities and work-based learning
    * Offering of academic, career exploration, and wraparound supports
    * Transition into a Registered Apprenticeship or other high-quality apprenticeship program
  2. Formalize relationships with the Registered Apprenticeship system. Many local programs lack a formal connection to Registered Apprenticeship programs. States that require formalized partnerships as part of the recognition process would elevate the value of pre-apprenticeships and enhance the impact these programs have on apprentice readiness. They would also create a pipeline of future apprentices. In turn, RA sponsors and employers would be more likely to engage with pre-apprenticeships. This would create opportunities to co-design training in alignment with apprenticeship requirements, expand opportunities for mentorship for pre-apprentices, and result in formal articulation agreements.
  3. Enhance and deepen data collection. In states where pre-apprenticeship is currently recognized, data collection is an inconsistent requirement. However, including data-sharing requirements in the recognition of pre-apprenticeships through RAPIDS (the Registered Apprenticeship Partners Information Management Data System) or other systems would improve data collection and help practitioners better understand the effect of pre-apprenticeship training on access to and retention in apprenticeship programs. This would also support continuous assessment, inform how pathways from pre-apprenticeship to Registered Apprenticeship are designed, and help to ensure that they are equally accessible to all workers, provide holistic support to participants, and effectively prepare them for success beyond their apprenticeship training.
  4. Drive diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility. Pre-apprenticeship has a strong record of effectively removing barriers to work and education for many jobseekers, including youth, women of all backgrounds, Black workers, Latinx workers, and individuals with disabilities. Pre-apprenticeship helps participants bridge readiness gaps, facilitates career exploration, provides certifications and credentials, and offers mentorship and wraparound services to help keep participants engaged in training. Formally recognizing pre-apprenticeship programs in alignment with consistent quality standards can drive diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility in the apprenticeship system and the broader workforce. Requiring programs to be transparent about their entry and success requirements, emphasizing responsive and adaptable teaching and mentorship, and providing wages could make pre-apprenticeship more accessible.
  5. Promote portability of skills across employers and states. Federal recognition of pre-apprenticeships and the use of similar frameworks and quality standards by states would increase the transferability of skills and credentials across states and employers. This would expand opportunities for participants, reduce the cost of future training, and support consistency in the credentialing marketplace.

By taking steps to formalize pre-apprenticeship, states can position themselves as leaders and take better advantage of the pre-apprenticeship opportunities that may be funded through the NAA.

By taking steps to formalize pre-apprenticeship, states can position themselves as leaders and take better advantage of the pre-apprenticeship opportunities that may be funded through the NAA or other opportunities. To do this, we recommend that states align their recognition process to JFF’s framework which builds on the DOL’s guidelines and further emphasizes diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility in their programs.

Once a recognition process is developed, states should then explore how to create incentives that encourage programs to participate. This could include a state grant program to advance high-quality pre-apprenticeships tied to in-demand industries, providing access to Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) funding; supporting marketing or partnership development; or offering grant funding. Missouri, for example, implemented a state grant (WIOA Discretionary Funded) program, Missouri Apprentice Ready, to launch new pre-apprenticeship programs, and then followed that with a formal recognition process for high-quality new and existing pre-apprenticeships. Missouri Apprentice Ready-certified pre-apprenticeship programs are further encouraged to participate, given that once they are recognized as Missouri Industry Recognized Credentials, they can appear on Missouri Apprentice Connect, a platform to promote Registered Apprenticeship opportunities across the state, which can facilitate expanded partnerships with the state’s apprenticeship system. To date, more than 60 pre-apprenticeship participants in Missouri have successfully enrolled in RAPs.

Training providers report that this process has improved the quality and impact of their programming. For example, Greg Markle, the executive director of Operation Fresh Start (OFS), a youth-serving community-based organization in Madison, Wisconsin, said registering the OFS pre-apprenticeship program with the state improved outcomes for participants by validating the value of the training. He adds that the move also strengthened OFS’s ability to engage with unions and employers because the program now has a stamp of approval that means a lot to partners and funders.

Help your state strengthen pre-apprenticeship training by reaching out to your state apprenticeship and workforce leaders and calling for the formal recognition of pre-apprenticeship programs. This important step will open the doors of opportunity to more workers.

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