Pre-Apprenticeship Urban Workforce Training Programs

By Martin, Larry G.; Smith, Regina O. | Adult Learning, Winter 2011 | Go to article overview

Pre-Apprenticeship Urban Workforce Training Programs


Martin, Larry G., Smith, Regina O., Adult Learning


Over the past two decades, inner-city communities have witnessed double-digit joblessness among an increasing number of residents who are relegated to the status of the "permanent" unemployed or the permanent underclass (O'Regan & Conway, 1993). These residents cannot hope to be competitive in a changing and evolving labor market. Relying on public assistance, low-wage part-time work without benefits, and struggling through spells of unemployment, these residents scuffle to survive during economically successful years and they are the last to experience long-term employment with family sustaining wages during an economic recovery. Particularly problematic for residents of inner-city communities is finding employment opportunities that pay well, and which cannot be exported to suburban communities, other states, or other countries. Although highly sensitive to economic boom and bust cycles, construction jobs offer this opportunity. However, in many urban settings, these jobs are controlled largely by unions, wherein membership is still highly evasive for people of color.

Since the 1990s several federal, state, local and community-based initiatives emerged to meet the employment readiness needs of these residents and others through comprehensive training. While adult education and training efforts are recognized as important to the future employment endeavors of these residents; the designers of the intervention programs do not seem to view theoretically-based adult education and training as a central concern. Further, the adult education literature does not contain a critical lens on the quality of these programs. Therefore, we do not know the extent to which these education and training intervention programs employ theoretically-based adult education approaches. Nor do we know the extent to which they create opportunities for the unemployed, undereducated, and low-income residents of these communities to obtain the appropriate knowledge, skills, and attitudes to enter (or reenter) the workforce and earn family sustaining wages. The purpose of this article is therefore to begin to fill this void by providing an adult education theory-based critical analysis of published case evaluations of three very different pre-apprenticeship workforce training programs. The programs include the Newark/Essex Construction Careers Consortium (N/ECCC) (Mabe, 2007), the Building Bridges Project (BBP) Night Class, and the BBP Carpenters Class (Worthen & Hayes, 2009).

Composites and Analysis of Three Pre-Apprenticeship Training Programs

In this section, we provide a composite of key elements of the case analyses found in the literature. Immediately following each of the key elements of the composites, we analyze the programs by using adult education literature and theories to highlight both the strengths and weaknesses of the program components.

Planning the Program

Each case included approaches to planning the program which included a sharp focus on a targeted clientele, key stakeholders and partnerships with other organizations, and distinct funding sources.

Targeted Clientele--each program sought to provide pre-apprenticeship training program opportunities to hard-to-employ low-income residents (i.e., unemployed and underemployed adults, individuals who have been convicted and served time in jail, youth, previous drug and alcohol abusers, and others) for employment in the building and construction industry as members of trade unions (Mabe, 2007; Worthen & Hayes, 2009).

Stakeholders and Partnerships--stakeholders and partners included unions, consortiums of local organizations, local and state-level government, and community-based agencies.

Funding--all of the programs were funded primarily from state sources; however, this funding was supplemented by donations and other grant sources. For example, the N/ECCC program had an annual budget of $600,000; however, a state grant provided about $450,000 on average. …

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