Pre-Apprenticeship: Advancing Equity & Access to Good Careers

Executive Summary 

As we advocate for policymakers to legislate for a just and inclusive recovery, we recognize that it is only possible if workers with records and their families are included in this vision and action – especially since the pandemic has exacerbated the barriers these workers already faced.  

The human dignity and rights of people with records must be respected everywhere, including in the labor market and the labor movementthis means fighting for a quality floor with living wages, just conditions, and excellent benefits but also creating and supporting pathways like pre-apprenticeships that advance equity and prepare people with records to thrive in apprenticeships and careersWe offer this report in deep solidarity with the movement of incarcerated and formerly incarcerated people and their allies working toward racial, gender, and economic justice.  

Systemic racism over generations has resulted in economic inequities including racial and gender wealth gaps and a lack of policies and investments for the wellbeing of communities of color; while there have been massive investments in a legal system that criminalizes and incarcerates people of color.  When people return to their communities with a record, they are faced with added barriers and few pathways that provide access to good careers.  

Every year, more than 620,000 people are released from prison in the United States— of those, only about 55 percent report any earnings at all and only 20 percent report income equivalent to a full-time minimum wage job. And given that formerly incarcerated individuals are ten times more likely to be homeless than the general population, those who become justice-involved are not only impacted during their sentence, but often for their entire lives — and in many cases their families are impacted as well.

Pre-apprenticeship programs provide a path to promising careers during a time when thousands of people are being released from prison and key industries need well-trained employees.

Pre-apprenticeship programs provide a path to promising careers during a time when thousands of people are being released from prison and key industries need well-trained employees.  They offer people with arrest and conviction records, improved opportunities for good quality jobs by preparing them to participate in industry apprenticeship programs. Pre-apprenticeship programs can facilitate individual success in apprenticeship programs by providing support services, career training, and access to mentors and exposure to different careers apprenticeships offer.   

While apprenticeships can advance opportunity, they can also perpetuate and compound severe inequities and discrimination against women and people of color.  Well designed and holistic pre-apprenticeship programs offer tremendous potential to change this by promoting equity and developing a more diverse workforce. The body of research about the value and role of pre-apprenticeship is small. This report strives to add to this body of research which is critical to NELP’s mission of advancing worker rights by promoting opportunity and economic security through work.

California has invested significantly in pre-apprenticeships to promote equity while supporting industry needs for trained workers. California policies recognize that good jobs reduce reincarceration, and support workers and industry.

As described in this report, California’s experience can inform efforts around the country to lift and build out pre-apprenticeships for people with records to access and thrive in promising careers.   Here are some of the highlights: 

  • California has invested millions in pre-apprenticeship programs across a broad array of demand industries, including healthcare, information technology, advanced manufacturing, advanced transportation and logistics and construction.
  • Community-based organizations and unions have teamed up to develop curriculum, training and jobs in the construction industry targeting people with records.
  • The best pre-apprenticeship programs partner with unions, offer industry relevant curriculum, exposure to professionals in the field and support services, and when done well, connect the worker directly to aapprenticeship program and to work on a higher wage career path. 
  • While relatively small-scale, the California pilot programs have a strong track record, and are taking on the hard-structural issues (e.g., race and gender discrimination, and lack of income support) that have created barriers to employment for people with records in apprenticeship programs. 

The California corrections and prison industry programs have embraced apprenticeships approved by the state and federal government, while still facing serious challenges in making “prison to employment” a reality. The report concludes with a summary of promising practices and recommendations for program and policy reforms.  To assure the success of pre-apprenticeship programs and their participants, the report recommends that government and organizations offering pre-apprenticeship programs: 

  • Assure adequate funding of programs offered inside and outside prison including using novel funding mechanisms from state infrastructure projects.
  • Promote equitable access to pre-apprenticeship and then apprenticeship programs in legislation and labor contracts.
  • Promote collaboration between organizations offering pre-apprenticeship programs and employers, unions, and industry associations. 
  • Remove barriers where possible that prevent people with records from qualifying for related jobs.
  • Continue to study how pre-apprenticeship programs can support people with records in securing good jobs once they leave prison. 

Download the report to read more.

Related to

About the Authors

Kemi Role

Areas of expertise:
  • Community Engagement,
  • Criminal Records & Employment,
  • Occupational Segregation,
  • Workplace Equity

Maurice Emsellem

Fair Chance Program Director, National Employment Law Project

Phil Hernandez

Staff Attorney, National Employment Project

Jodi Pincus

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