To help adult learners overcome barriers to access, adult educators need to be nimble in responding to changing needs. We looked at eight programs to discover how they are using diverse approaches across program areas — from recruitment to learning experience.

Expanding career opportunities for adult learners starts with talking to them.
Since 1978, Nontraditional Employment for Women (NEW) has increased the number of women represented in trade careers in New York City from 2% to 7%. The program’s success has been partly due to recognition that answering learners’ needs can mean going back to the basics. In this case, NEW makes it easy for potential applicants to learn more about the program by holding information sessions every Monday and Tuesday.

In Denver, high demand in the tech industry is outpacing the number of workers trained in information technology (IT). ActivateIT Powered by Per Scholas brings together two workforce development organizations — placement firm Activate and national tech trainer Per Scholas — to open pathways to rewarding IT careers. The experienced recruiting team searches for talent in overlooked communities, such as homeless shelters and government housing developments.

Pivoting to meet COVID-19 needs can bring new benefits to learners.
The pandemic hit adult education programs hard, limiting learning and employment opportunities. The first step for many providers was to move education online. Montana’s Plumbers and Pipefitters Local Union #41 found that going virtual with apprenticeship training addressed far more than the pandemic — it removed barriers to participation such as travel expenses, childcare, and inclement weather. These programs now plan to continue with virtual education to help boost participation from across the state.

In Massachusetts, hotel shutdowns left hospitality-focused Boston Education Skills and Training (BEST) without jobs for their trainees. But in assessing industry and local needs, the nonprofit realized that much of their training was suited for the in-demand healthcare sector. In response, they quickly created a healthcare environmental services training.

Creative learning experiences engage participants and build diversified skill sets.
When Sacramento County Probation Department’s Youth Detention Facility launched a culinary pre-apprenticeship, food preparation was only one area of focus. The program gives participants the opportunity to hone business skills through event-based projects like pop-up bakeshops.

In many industries, employers and educators can offer on-site education — but for others, that may not be feasible due to high costs and limited opportunities for training. JumpStartAL started as part of an ambitious goal to increase Alabama’s workforce by 500,000 highly skilled workers by 2025. The private-public workforce initiative aims to use virtual reality to lower costs, risks of injuries, and turnover rates in industries such as manufacturing and healthcare.

Strategic partnerships can strengthen the community and industry while serving learners’ needs.
When nonprofit International Center for Appropriate and Sustainable Technology (ICAST) and Santa Fe Community College partnered together on a workforce training program, they recognized the opportunity to answer several community needs. The partnership is designed to empower disadvantaged youth and adults in underserved New Mexico and Texas communities. Project GC2 offers on-the-job training in green construction projects, upskilling participants and powering restorations on low- to moderate-income multifamily properties.

Bronx Community College had already developed an associate degree in media and digital film production, but New York City’s strong film industry meant there were still more opportunities for adult learners. In 2018, the school partnered with Local 52 of the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees and the New York State Governor’s Office of Motion Picture & Television Development. The organizations launched a 14-week training program designed to create more pathways into film careers and increase diversity on film sets.

Create an innovative pre-apprenticeship that builds career pathways and answers community needs.

Pre-apprenticeships can help expand future opportunities for many adult learners. Explore our challenge resources to learn whether this type of workforce development program is the right fit for your community. Preliminary proposals for innovative pre-apprenticeship programs are due by November 25.

Subscribe to the Rethink Adult Ed Challenge newsletter to receive future updates.