August 26

Spotlight on: Pre-Apprenticeship


Over the course of the past year I have been pondering how I could provide more resources to upskill people that live in under resourced communities. Many Black and Brown communities have limited opportunities to help individuals discover careers in tech and begin building the skills needed to thrive along the journey to become software or data engineers. Worse than that, there are not enough role models so that people can envision themselves in STEM careers. My long time inaction in this area due to my focus on `earn and learn` has recently changed. I’ve learned to walk and chew bubble gum.

After our experimental ISA Pre-Apprenticeship program ended earlier this year it clarified the need for a new pre-apprenticeship model that would be equitable and even more sustainable. We relaunched our pre-apprenticeship program online and we are now accepting students in our beta cohort. This free program provides an opportunity for scrappy individuals to gain the skills they need online. We still have an option that has stipends, and everyone finishes 100% debt free.

Now we have to do the hard work of getting out in communities across America and help people discover the resources and support communities at in person events to make the largely online program stick. This is the real challenge. Due to a generous grant from the Blacks In Tech Foundation we will be doing live events in person in LA, Minneapolis, and Atlanta over the next several months to help more people discover career pathways in tech and get them into a pre-apprenticeship program.

How did we design the program?

When thinking about how to serve the most people we considered a fee based approach, MOOC, in person and hybrid approaches and what we ended up settling on was an approach that we feel is accessible to most and challenging enough that it will help us identify candidates that are ready for an apprenticeship when they complete the program.

If you are thinking about building a pre-apprenticeship one thing that might be helpful is to provide flexibility. We intentionally designed two tracks: Self Paced, and Part time and in our case the training is free. To accomplish making it free we partnered with philanthropy to cover a limited number of stipends for the part time track, as well as built a model where other funders can help us bring in more students.

Benefits of a pre-apprenticeship

One of the challenges we have faced in the past is the selection of candidates. I’m often asked how we pick, and what are we looking for in candidates. That is a topic large enough for an entire newsletter (or maybe a short book), so the one word answer is: grit. Designing the pre-apprenticeship to allow us to highlight a candidates grittiness and help them develop more grit was critical.

Things to consider

Pre-apprenticeships are exclusively registered at the state level, there is no registration process yet at the federal level for pre-apprenticeship programs. Pre-apprenticeship and apprenticeships are often unfamiliar terms to participants and collaborative partners so I often explain them as:

Pre-apprenticeship programs are typically unpaid learning experiences designed to prepare participants with all the professional workplace skills they will need to enter the workforce and succeed. Sometimes referred to as soft skills or 21st century skills, the programs should help learners master a limited number of technical skills and be more focused on general preparation for any type of job. For that reason there are many pre-apprenticeship programs that can lead to a variety of different apprenticeship programs. Think of them more like how High School prepares for college or career readiness. So a pre-apprenticeship could be thought of as grade 13. Sorry HS seniors, you just got one more year.

Registered apprenticeship programs are ‘earn and learn’ opportunities that provide valuable hands on training and are characterized by learning under the supervision and support of master practitioners. Registered apprenticeships are always paid employment opportunities and typically lead to permanent employment at the company sponsoring the training.


By the end of the Creating Coding Careers pre-apprenticeship students will have gained essential 21st century worker skills as well as obtained practical hands-on experience in web development and will be able to demonstrate early career development skill in Designing and developing modern software applications. They will be ready for an apprenticeship or can continue to learn elsewhere and seek employment in the industry.

If you are thinking about designing a tech pre-apprenticeship please reach out to me. I’d love to hear what you are doing and be helpful if I can.

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