• Join your peers at SSTI's 2024 Annual Conference!

    Join us December 10-12 in Arizona to connect with and learn from your peers working around the country to strengthen their regional innovation economies. Visit ssticonference.org for more information and to register today.

  • Become an SSTI Member

    As the most comprehensive resource available for those involved in technology-based economic development, SSTI offers the services that are needed to help build tech-based economies.  Learn more about membership...

  • Subscribe to the SSTI Weekly Digest

    Each week, the SSTI Weekly Digest delivers the latest breaking news and expert analysis of critical issues affecting the tech-based economic development community. Subscribe today!

Pre-apprenticeship programs boost career readiness, increase skills

April 16, 2020
By: Konni Lorenz

In early April the Department of Labor announced a $42.5 million grant opportunity for the Youth Apprenticeship Readiness Grant Program. The program is to support the development of new or expanding registered apprenticeship programs (RAPs) for youth, including quality pre-apprenticeship programs that lead to a RAP. The grant program supports the president’s executive order and the Department of Labor, Employment and Training Administration’s goals to promote pre-apprenticeships, to develop a strong youth apprenticeship pipeline, and to expand access to youth apprenticeships. Such programs provide both a pipeline of educated workers for industries, as well as greater opportunities for youth exploring career options.

The line between pre-apprenticeships and apprenticeships is often fine. According to the Department of Labor, the key contrast is the outcome. Pre-apprenticeships focus on preparation and thus include an approved training curriculum based on industry standards, educational and pre-vocational services, hands-on training in a simulated lab experience or through volunteer opportunities, assistance in applying to apprenticeship programs, and may be paid or unpaid. An apprenticeship on the other hand, allows students to earn a National Credential typically accepted by employers and industries across the U.S., and consists of paid on-the-job training and an education component. 

SSTI recently took a look at some of the pre-apprenticeship programs in different states across the country and the impact some are having.


In Michigan, a state with a robust manufacturing base, Henry Ford College offers the Multi-Skilled Manufacturing Maintenance (Mechatronics) Program which combines college courses with an instructional lab for hands-on experience at the Ford Motor Company Flat Rock Assembly Plant. The two-year program is offered to students beginning in their junior year of high school at no cost to them or their parents. The combination of classroom and laboratory exposure features principles and skills vital to modern manufacturing: electrical, mechanical, fluid, computer control, and automation/robotics systems. At the conclusion of the program, students will have earned up to 28 hours of undergraduate credits in Henry Ford College’s Multi-Skilled Manufacturing associate’s degree and have the potential to be accepted into apprenticeship programs immediately following graduation.

Another program, NPower, focuses on creating pathways to economic prosperity by launching digital careers for military veterans and young people from underserved communities. It is a national nonprofit working in seven states and Canada, having recently expanded to Detroit, Michigan – NPower Michigan. For 17 weeks, program participants attend class five days a week for four hours a day. They then go on to complete a seven-week paid internship. According to Camille Walker Banks, executive director of NPower Michigan, “80 percent of our students when they finish either end up in full-time, permanent IT positions or they go on to advanced degrees.” She continued on saying, “and what’s beautiful about our program is that it’s paid for. It does not cost the students anything.”

NPower Michigan began operations in the fall of 2019, and Rashawn Smith is currently in the program’s inaugural class. Smith said he feels that the program will be a huge asset to his career. “They’re helping us with our resume and helping us be more professional and we do mock interviews. So just having that practice, I feel it will give us a big boost to get the jobs over other people that don’t.” 

New York

A number of states have implemented a new process for celebrating high school seniors who choose to pursue STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) education at technical programs, two-year or four-year colleges and universities — think NFL Draft Day. Boeing created STEM Signing Days in 2017 in South Carolina. This trend has spread to more than 15 states, including New York.

The Finger Lakes Youth Apprenticeship Program coordinated by the Rochester Technology and Manufacturing Association and Monroe Community College pairs high schoolers with local manufacturing companies. Like other pre-apprenticeship programs, they target junior and senior high school students to enter a partnership with a company and earn credit toward an apprenticeship while still in high school; however, they’ve opted to use a unique selection process. Their Signing Day ceremony features streaming videos, contract announcements, official signings between students and employers, photo ops, team swag, and the first steps on their path to exciting careers.


Saturday Academy is an education nonprofit that has been operating for 37 years with the mission of connecting young people (grades 2-12) with community experts in hands-on STEM opportunities, which is carried out through various programs such as camps, classes, and the Apprenticeships in Science & Engineering (ASE) program. ASE program director, Libby Van Vleet, said of the program, “It’s a great age to connect with because these students know that they really like math and science, but they may not know what that is as a career.”

Marisa Thierheimer shared that participating in the Apprenticeships in Science & Engineering (ASE) program, one of the programs offered by Saturday Academy, “Definitely guided my career path very heavily.” In her current position at Gilead Sciences, Thierheimer has had the opportunity to work on projects for HIV, lung disease, and different types of hepatitis. “The other day I was running an instrument that I learned how to use during the ASE program seven years ago. It was just a full circle moment,” said Thierheimer.

ASE connects motivated high school students with mentors in pre-professional, eight-week, full-time STEM internships designed by mentors themselves. Mentor organizations include universities, hospitals, research institutions, and private companies. Roughly 40 percent of students are from backgrounds typically underrepresented in the sciences. The program includes 296 hours at the internship site as well as three conferences throughout the summer – a professional skills orientation, career exploration workshop, and a symposium at the end of the summer where students present their research.

“If I hadn’t done it I might have ended up here, but it was a huge influence in helping me decide early on where I was meant to be,” said Thierheimer.


In Vermont, knowing that it’s almost impossible to find a high school with a shop class that provides the kind of training needed in their industry, GW Plastics started their own school at their state-of-the-art facilities. The GW Plastics’ School of Tech program offers local high school students the opportunity to enroll in a semester-long, for-credit course that exposes them to the world of advanced manufacturing. Local students are bused to the facilities three times each week and taught by tooling, automation, and molding professionals. The class begins with basic business and manufacturing exposure and then progresses through the entire manufacturing process, including product design, precision tooling, injection molding, automation, and quality assurance. A fan favorite each semester is the trip to a nearby Gifford Medical Center where students have the opportunity to see experienced health care professionals in action with life-saving medical devices designed and manufactured by GW Plastics.

Sarah Holbert and Connor LaVelle also contributed to the development of this story.

apprenticeship, education, education stem, workforce