Pre-apprenticeships have transformed the lives of many Americans. By breaking down barriers to accessing workforce training, these adult education programs provide new pathways to rewarding careers. We interviewed three graduates of pre-apprenticeships to learn how their pre-apprenticeships programs changed their lives.

Meet the graduates 

Keith Boehm is a graduate of The Wistar Institute’s biomedical technician pre-apprenticeship. Keith previously worked as a social worker in mental health and a music therapist. He is currently completing his biomedical research technician apprenticeship at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.

Shirley Wu is a graduate of TLG Learning’s network development engineer pre-apprenticeship. A U.S. Army veteran, Shirley was transitioning out of active duty when she entered the program. She is now a security analyst at Microsoft in Seattle, Washington.

Silas Follendorf is a graduate of Apprenticeship and Nontraditional Employment for Women (ANEW), which is focused on increasing inclusion in the construction industry for self-identifying women and gender diverse individuals. Prior to entering the program, Silas worked in the human services field before they transitioned to warehouse work. Silas now works for the City of Tacoma, Washington.

Many Americans might have heard the word apprenticeship, but never participated in one — and even fewer know of a pre-apprenticeship. What spurred you to consider entering one?

Silas: “I was tired of warehouse work and felt like my life was going nowhere. I helped support a construction pre-apprenticeship for homeless and at-risk youth while I was in the field of social work, and decided to try my luck at typing in free school or apprenticeships programs for adults to find something similar. ANEW was the first link that popped up.”

Keith: “I saw the information on a flyer and pursued it from there. The opportunity to have a more hands-on, direct experience really appealed to me. I wanted to be in school, but I needed to be working since I’m older and have a son — to be able to do both was really ideal for my situation.”

Shirley: “I heard about TLG Learning from a fellow soldier who was also planning to leave active duty. I didn’t have any prior technical training or experience, but I was intrigued by TLG’s pre-apprenticeship curriculum and successful placement rate for entry-level tech apprenticeships and jobs.”

Pre-apprenticeships can open the door to a range of opportunities, but also have a number of requirements to successfully complete. What did you find most difficult about it?

Shirley: “The COVID-19 shutdown came during the middle of our program, and we had to switch to remote learning within a day’s notice. It was definitely one of the biggest challenges I faced, especially since the CompTIA testing sites also shut down around the same time.”

Keith: “I was able to start the program because of my strong GPA, but I had to take a prerequisite course during the first eight weeks of the program. The challenge was really the amount of information to take in.”

Silas: “I feel like I was pretty lucky: I am not a parent, and I had more or less reliable transportation. Getting out of bed was probably the most difficult thing. Class technically started at 6:30 or 6:45, but I got there at 5:50 every morning just in case something went wrong. People got cut quickly — they had a three strike policy to mirror the work world.”

What did the program offer that helped you graduate and move on to an apprenticeship? More importantly, what drove you to finish it?

Keith: ”My mentors were super helpful. They knew there was a lot of information, but they were very helpful in getting us the resources we needed. It wasn’t just a grade — they really wanted to know that you’re understanding it, grasping it, are interested in it, and can do it.”

Silas: “I was with a really amazing group of women, queers, and non-binary folks. It was very hard physically — but we were all in it together. I know for a fact, if I was ever to see them out on a job site and if I needed a hand, they would be there in a second. It was the community that drove me to succeed.”

Shirley: “I appreciated the personal feel of the instruction and the support provided. My desire to find a job in tech — despite the pandemic — drove me to finish. I knew that I had to complete the program and pass all of my certification tests in order to get the type of job I wanted to have.”

Looking back on the program, what was the most valuable part of being in the pre-apprenticeship? How did the program’s support help you succeed?

Shirley: “The human component of it — whether that’s having a live instructor or calls with the career support team. Most of the material can be found in internet courses, but having an instructor to answer questions and get to know your strengths and weaknesses to provide constructive feedback was invaluable in actually mastering the material.”

Silas: “I always said I was bad at math, and it turns out I’m actually pretty alright at it. I was just bad at showing up to school because it came secondary to survival. In addition to trades math, there were rigorous physical and mental toughness elements to the program. ANEW gave me the confidence to know it doesn’t really matter what a job throws at me. I’ll find a way to handle it.”

Keith: “It opened new doors to me that I didn’t necessarily know about. The program accelerated the key skills needed to do that work. That was exciting and liberating. But you have to also be committed. There’s a higher expectation than in a normal classroom.”

What should people know before they participate in a pre-apprenticeship?

Keith: “If you’re on the fence, talk to the teachers and mentors. Go out on a limb and try it, because you may be surprised to find that the program may not be that hard — you just have to put the effort in.”

Shirley: “Set a goal of what you want to accomplish — my goal was to land an apprenticeship or full-time role at a major tech company — and the timeline that works for you. Not everyone has time to spend four years getting a degree. I found that a pre-apprenticeship was the most efficient way for me to get the foundational knowledge I needed to be able to accomplish what I wanted to do.”

Silas: “Programs like this absolutely do change lives. If you have a family, if you’re sending money to parents, if you want to have a living wage to be able to support yourself and your children, you can do that. Pre-apprenticeships are the first step in that process.”

Help transform the lives of adult learners

To enter the $750,000 Rethink Adult Ed Challenge, submit a proposal for an innovative pre-apprenticeship by November 25. The challenge is helping providers funded by the Adult Education and Family Literacy Act (AEFLA) create innovative and high-quality pre-apprenticeship programs — in any industry, anywhere in the United States.

Subscribe to the Rethink Adult Ed Challenge newsletter to receive updates on the challenge.