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Opportunity Youth Pre-Apprenticeship Framework Component 3: Culmination in One or More Industry-Recognized Credentials

May 10, 2021

A core feature of a high-quality pre-apprenticeship program is that it provides participants with at least one industry-recognized credential or other short-term credential such as OSHA 10 or CompTIA A+.These credentials are typically stackable and portable to support a participant’s entry, growth and advancement along a career pathway. Stackable credentials are defined as a sequence of certifications that can be attained over time and move an individual along a career pathway. They allow learners to quickly switch between school and work while continuing to progress toward a comprehensive credential like a degree. Stackable credentials also contribute to higher-level certificates, degrees, or other credentials recognized across labor markets. It is important to note that there are several types of credentials that can be stacked and they encompass both micro-credentials and industry-recognized credentials which are discussed in this section. Micro-credentials develop distinct skills that are usually earned through performance-based assessments that showcase skills in specific topic areas. Industry credentials typically involve demonstrating a broader set of skills that can be shown through attainment of a certification (via exams).

Credentials should support direct entry into the workforce, be aligned with labor-market demand, and be validated by regional or national employers or industry associations.

High-quality pre-apprenticeship programs engage with employers to provide requisite credentials and certifications while designing training curriculum to identify and remove barriers that may be experienced by opportunity youth when trying to obtain them. This is especially important for opportunity youth, who too often can be guided into jobs that do not offer pathways for advancement.

To ensure that the credentials being offered will provide the greatest value to young people, pre-apprenticeship programs should select those that are in highest demand with employers. Programs should consult with their state labor market information entities and workforce development boards to identify credentials and competencies sought by employers, and when possible, programs should remove financial barriers associated with these credentials by defraying the costs associated with them. This can include exam fees, the cost of books and materials, and costs associated with transportation to and from exam sites. Programs should also gather information from state and federal resources, employers, and industry associations to inform their career pathways and credential strategies. This will ensure that training and credentialing offered aligns with the reality of industry and employer needs and expectations.

Credentials should be stackable and portable.

Stacking credentials helps opportunity youth adapt to shifting market demands and improves their ability to advance along and across career pathways, which is important in ensuring that they have access to economic mobility. One effective strategy is to employ targeted short-term courses to help learners acquire essential knowledge and skills. These micro-credentials signal proficiency in understanding and applying the competencies needed for the apprenticeship. The goal of using micro-credentials in this context is to lead to formal industry recognition or preparation for industry-recognized credentials.

For example, Pennsylvania-certified Smart Manufacturing and Advanced Robotics Training (SMART) developed a pre-apprenticeship program to develop a pipeline of industry-certified workers ready to enter internships, apprenticeship programs, certificate and associate degree programs, and in some cases, employment in robotics. SMART organizes short, targeted lessons and activities to help students earn certain parts of certifications in class and robotic labs. Hands-on learning is included, and students are able to document their learning in an electronic portfolio. This Example Pathway to Certification graphic provides an example of how SMART involves micro-credentials in its pre-apprenticeship program.

Component in Action

The Urban Technology Project


Pre-apprenticeship programs need to facilitate earning credentials that prepare participants or align with the skills identified for training and curriculum.

It is important that every credential offered to a participant aligns with the reality of the industry and the needs of employers. To ensure that the credentials provided through a high-quality pre-apprenticeship will properly prepare young people for entry into and success along a career pathway, programs should partner with employers and apprenticeship sponsors to determine which credentials are in highest demand and to validate their selections. Programs should also work with employers and credential providers to then ensure that their training curriculum properly prepares young people for any testing or requirements associated with credential attainment and to address, where possible, any barriers that might be experienced by opportunity youth participants.

Programs should embed preparation for earning industry-recognized credentials into the curriculum, including supports for test delivery and credential attainment.

To ensure equitable access to credentials for all pre-apprenticeship participants, including opportunity youth, JFF recommends that programs reduce any barriers participants may face, including financial and academic. The cost of obtaining a credential can be expensive, especially if they want or need to earn multiple credentials. To expand access for opportunity youth, JFF recommends that pre-apprenticeship providers fund training and other costs associated with obtaining credentials, including exam fees and costs associated with equipment, materials, and transportation.

Additionally, programs should explore all available testing accommodations for young people and whenever possible offer testing models that meet a diverse range of learning styles. This includes adapting testing formats, offering additional time or practice testing, and employing a universal design for learning strategy. This approach ensures that access to credential attainment is equitable for all participants, including those with learning differences. To do this, JFF recommends that training providers partner with credentialing agencies and employers to assess when and where adaptions can be made.