Pre-apprenticeship programs should ensure that their entry and success requirements are clear and fully defined at the outset. This helps opportunity youth understand how to navigate and persist through the program and, most importantly, puts them in the driver’s seat and acknowledges their need for autonomy. At the same time, having clear and specific success requirements helps ensure that individuals find success in pre-apprenticeship programs. Such perspective is important to ensure there is equity in these important career pathway programs for opportunity youth.
Pre-apprenticeship programs clearly articulate entry requirements, including specific stipulations of requisite academic, employability, and social-emotional skills.
Fully and fairly articulating the requirements and demands of pre-apprenticeship and apprenticeship programs to the three distinct audiences (learners, staff and referral agencies) is an important dimension of high-quality programs. These practices must start early, at the recruitment stage. Ensuring program information is reaching communities with the least access ensures equity of opportunity. The best programs and networks of providers include a pre-enrollment phase—a quality orientation that provides prospective candidates a chance to try on the program; to get a feel for what’s coming. This phase includes built-in time for reflection and for individual, youth-centered counseling to help candidates assess the program’s fit with their career and life goals. At the same time, the best programs also work together as a network to ensure best-fit opportunities for learners when one program may not be a good match.
Programs that serve opportunity youth should be explicit about eligibility requirements. This includes properly conveying the full range of academic, technical and employability skills needed to qualify. Programs should also explain the specific foundational math and literacy proficiencies required (and the fact that these skills are often taught or reinforced in a broader career context), the rigors of classroom and related technical instruction, and any other requirements unique to a specific apprenticeship placement, such as a high school diploma, GED, entry exams, and driver’s license. This specificity will help young people set realistic expectations for their training as they prepare for pathways beyond the pre-apprenticeship program. High quality pre-apprenticeship programs should provide these services directly when possible or partner with external providers who can.
In addition, programs should look at their assessment method itself to ensure that it is authentic and comprehensive, that it provides a true indicator of young people’s skills and readiness, and that it helps identify areas of growth. Multifaceted assessments that capture academic skills, technical knowledge, and habits of mind, as well as inform what might impede or challenge a candidate from succeeding, are preferred. For instance, a traditional “one-shot” assessment test that relies on recall can prove to be a barrier, in particular for those with learning disabilities (diagnosed or undiagnosed). Instead of a one-size-fits-all approach, we encourage programs to explore and apply a universal design for learning (UDL) framework. UDL is an evidence-based framework for designing inclusive learning environments, instructional practices, and flexible educational tools and materials that gives all individuals equal access and support for learning opportunities. The goal in this case, as it should be in any assessment process, is to ensure fair and equal access to learning opportunities.
Programs should also clearly outline the daily expectations of participants, including attendance and scheduling, the number of study hours and assignments that will be completed outside of scheduled program hours, required site visits, job shadows, internships, and interviews with employers. Pre-apprenticeship programs, even in the same sector, often vary in duration. Potential candidates need to know the duration of the specific program they are considering. At the same time, all these requirements should be made clear to the provider network that refers and supports participants, so they can help young people prepare for the rigors of a pre-apprenticeship.
Programs should clearly articulate expectations for participation, such as self-management, persistence skills, and other success requirements.
Pre-apprenticeship programs should clearly articulate self-management, persistence skills, and any other non-academic or technical skills required for success in the program. Staff can deliver and reinforce clear and consistent messages as to the importance of study skills, time management, independent study, collaboration and teamwork, taking initiative, asking for help, and being self-aware. One strategy is to help opportunity youth recognize what these skills, behaviors, and attitudes look like, with concrete examples. Staff should also be realistic and specific about how much content participants will need to learn, the pace of the work, and what they’ll need to produce and achieve during what can be a fast-moving, shorter term pre-apprenticeship program.
Programs should clearly articulate requirements for successful transition from the pre-apprenticeship program to at least one specific apprenticeship program, including skills, credentials, and other aspects that ensure access to stable employment.
Pre-apprenticeships are the first step in a longer career pathway within an occupation and industry sector. The best programs explain upfront how the pre-apprenticeship training will serve as the foundation for continuing career advancement within an occupation and across occupational pathways. Beyond that, high-quality programs are explicit and intentional in helping opportunity youth understand the specific workplace skills, attitudes, and habits required of an occupation. This includes understanding the extent to which employers require flexibility of an employee’s work schedule or work location. Identifying and flagging these requirements ahead of time gives opportunity youth the information they need to be properly prepared for apprenticeship and to identify their best path after completing their pre-apprenticeship training.
High-quality programs identify and flag requirements, such as the need for certain physical capabilities (such as lifting heavy boxes) or the absence of specific criminal convictions, that cannot reasonably be overcome through program supports.
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Given the over-representation of young people, and in particular young people of color and those from low-income families or communities, in the criminal justice system, programs may need to identify any barriers to being hired in occupations and industries that the pre-apprenticeship connects to. Programs should not only identify these barriers but help participants understand what they mean for their long-term goals and help them pivot to a different occupational area if they are likely to be locked out of employment. Programs should support participants by helping them understand how past convictions and incarceration may impact their access to different career pathways, and by providing guidance around how to discuss these barriers in job interviews. When possible, programs should also take steps to remove these barriers by working with employers, workforce and community-based partners, and the legal system.
Pre-apprenticeship programs should also clearly identify and flag any physical requirements of the pre-apprenticeship training, and of the pathways connected to that training. This includes assessing a young person’s level of comfort with the physical requirements of a job and helping them determine if that occupation is the best fit. JFF also recommends that when and where possible programs provide accommodations to ensure that all young people can fully participate in training. The Job Accommodation Network (JAN) is a free and expert resource on job accommodations and disability employment issues that programs can leverage to support this work. Programs should also work with Registered Apprenticeship sponsors to add or ease accessibility by removing as many of these barriers to participation as possible.