High-quality pre-apprenticeships offer strong, well-balanced, and continuous blends of academic, career exploration, and wraparound supports. They prioritize these as core activities within a dedicated academic bridge program that contextualizes academic coursework with industry content using dedicated staffing, well-sequenced activities, strategic partnerships, and targeted funding (such as with Title II that allows for customized curricula in partnership with adult education providers) thus increasing the likelihood of participant success at the next level. This is especially true for opportunity youth who may come to the program with less developed foundational skills, limited exposure to career options, and minimal work experience. Academic courses should be personalized and practical and focus on critical and core academic concepts important for a smooth transition to next-step training opportunities. Transportation to and from job sites is also critical to preparing for real-world employment, and addressing barriers (such as obtaining a driver’s license) in advance helps ensure success. In addition, to be fully present and engaged, opportunity youth should be provided with positive adult supports and ample access to mental health services, childcare, housing, and nutritional services.
Programs need to provide orientation to the industry and exposure to a range of occupations, career paths, wages, and information about job opportunities.
Career navigation activities help young people map a clear career pathway that extends beyond an entry-level job and across various occupational pathways. These activities should support participants in developing a career plan that identifies short- and long-term goals, including potential barriers and possible solutions. To do this, programs should start by helping opportunity youth research and explore their own career interests, including what skills, credentials, and continuing education are required to enter and advance. This can be complemented with well-structured and sequenced informational interviews, career fairs, job shadows, short-term internships, and the use of alumni, workplace mentors, and peer advisories. Another best practice is engaging opportunity youth in local labor market research to help them learn about the best training and career pathway opportunities, providing another way to increase their agency and reinforce the lifelong skill of self-advocacy.
Support exploration of postsecondary credential options aligned with career interests.
While pre-apprenticeships traditionally connect to Registered Apprenticeship pathways, they should also highlight the postsecondary pathways available after training. This is important for those who may not be ready to advance into a Registered Apprenticeship or who may wish to continue their education instead. To support opportunity youth in exploring education pathways, programs can leverage “the power of place” and create activities that put young people on a college campus and give them exposure to academic opportunities and resources. Other best practices include inviting college campus staff to participate in college and career fairs and hiring college students as mentors or volunteers to support postsecondary navigation.
One of the most effective strategies for helping opportunity youth and other participants understand the range of post-program options available is to invite alumni to share their experiences. Hearing from peers is a powerful way to highlight the opportunities available to participants and to help them assess what next step is best for them. They can also help young people understand the financing options and how to juggle work and school if they decide not to do an apprenticeship and instead want to pursue postsecondary education in a different setting.
Provide wraparound supports such as tutoring and case management, including access to resources for childcare, mental health, transportation, and housing.
The provision of wraparound supports and other related services closes academic and skills gaps and helps participants be fully present and acquire the knowledge, skills, and competencies needed for career advancement. Offering wraparound supports is important for opportunity youth, who often face myriad barriers; such supports can promote a healthy, youth-centered, and supportive environment in which they can successfully complete their training. These services often include offering stipends for childcare, housing, and transportation; providing or making connections to mental health and healthcare services; and inclusion of mentorship and case management. Programs can offer these services in-house or partner with local community-based organizations and agencies to build a provider network and ecosystem of support for participants. Practices that reinforce quality delivery of service and support include those that:
- Engage educational specialists and use well-regarded partners that can offer on-premises supplemental courses and tutoring, and ensure participants have access to and are trained to use basic technology required for online academic supports.
- Facilitate connections to appropriate service providers, including orienting opportunity youth to provider partners and their individual staff, providing easy access, and offering incentives to follow through with important appointments. It also includes co-location of services whenever possible.
- Are personalized and tailored to help individual participants address specific gaps in requirements and provide just-in-time supports that make it easier for opportunity youth to participate successfully.
- Include a lens on trauma-informed or healing-centered care, with an emphasis on helping young people cultivate their agency by using a strengths-based approach to developing leadership and self-advocacy skills.