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JFF's Program Design Framework

for Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Accessibility in Registered Apprenticeship

At a Glance

This framework offers employers and Registered Apprenticeship sponsors field-informed program design elements and considerations for building systems, processes, partnerships, and practices that can drive diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility in Registered Apprenticeship programs.

Authors

Vanessa Bennett, Associate Director, JFF
Maria Cabiya, Associate Director, JFF
Myriam Sullivan, Director, JFF
Deborah Kobes, Senior Director, JFF

Photo of 5 people at a construction training site, looking at the camera and standing next to a newly built home

Source: American Youth Works, Austin, TX. 

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Introduction

Because Registered Apprenticeship (RA) programs provide high-quality job training and can be a springboard to family-supporting jobs, many hold the assumption that these programs alone are enough to diversify the workforce and improve equity, inclusion, and accessibility.

The unfortunate reality is that the RA system largely mirrors the patterns of inequality in the broader workforce through representation, wages, retention, and other measures of inclusion along the lines of race, ethnicity, gender, and ability. For example, even though women make up approximately half of the U.S. workforce, less than 14% of apprentices are women. Even the share of Asian American apprentices is quite low when compared to their degree of participation in the labor force, and Black apprentices are even less likely to complete. Recent analysis of apprenticeships for youth also shows troubling inequities within key indicators such as completion wages along all lines of difference.

For Registered Apprenticeship to achieve its promise as a driver of workforce equity, apprentices themselves must be at the center of program design with the strong support of diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility (DEIA) practices.

JFF’s Program Design Framework for Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Accessibility in Registered Apprenticeship offers field-informed program design elements and considerations that move beyond simply enrolling diverse participants into programs. It instead focuses on building systems, processes, partnerships, and practices that drive equity across each stage of the apprenticeship experience.

Framework-graphic

This framework also recognizes that apprenticeships do not exist by themselves. RA programs are part of larger workplaces that must display the same level of commitment to DEIA throughout the organization. Accordingly, the framework begins with a set of broad organizational DEIA considerations that JFF recommends employers implement to ensure that apprentices are successful within their training and beyond.

From there, the framework moves into a series of recommendations based on promising practices from the field, which include:

  • Provide livable wages and advancement opportunities.

  • Incorporate participant voice authentically and build cultures of belonging.

  • Invest in equitable data practices to inform program design.

  • Use transparent and accessible practices to diversify recruitment.

  • Design training and classroom instruction to be accessible and representative of participants.

  • Provide comprehensive and quality mentorship to participants.

  • Support participant success with robust and responsive retention services.

As needed throughout the framework, recommendations will be followed by a related term in parentheses that is linked to information that can guide you to deeper learning on the topic.

This framework has been created to provide suggested practices to improve diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility in Registered Apprenticeship beyond what is already required by law. Registered Apprenticeship programs must follow all regulatory guidance, including those included within 29 CFR Part 30: Equal Employment Opportunity in Apprenticeship.

To build truly diverse, equitable, inclusive, and accessible Registered Apprenticeship programs, employers, sponsors, intermediaries, and other practitioners must make strong, sustained investments in organizational policy and practice. This framework doesn’t address or solve the systemic and historical barriers that exist within our workforce. Still, the recommendations within it can help apprenticeship stakeholders develop and redesign RA programs to effectively advance equity and access and positively impact the experiences of apprentices.

Advancing DEIA in Registered Apprenticeship

This framework offers a set of actionable program design considerations that respond to the existing systemic barriers and challenges related to diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility within the Registered Apprenticeship system. They are informed by existing evidence and data as well as extensive research and work with employers, sponsors, intermediaries, and practitioners in the field.

To learn more, view the resources linked throughout the framework and at the Resource Library of JFF’s National Innovation Hub for Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Accessibility in Registered Apprenticeship.

Definitions

Diversity: The representation and proactive valuing of varied identities, differences, and perspectives, honoring our lived experiences collectively and individually.

Equity: Intentional distribution of access and resources to remove the predictability of success or failure that correlates with entrenched outcome disparities in our society.

Inclusion: The creation of a culture of belonging that prioritizes the contribution and participation of all people in executing an organization’s mission, values, and goals.

Accessibility: The facilitation of full and independent access for all people to employment, facilities, services, and information through intentional design, development of accommodations, and respect for the wide range of human ability

Stay tuned to this framework and the Resource Library at JFF’s National Innovation Hub for Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Accessibility in Registered Apprenticeship as we curate and create resources and examples to help with the implementation of these recommendations.

Sign up to our Apprenticeships & Work-Based Learning mailing list to stay informed and let us know about organizations and programs that are putting these practices into action!

 

Photo of a training program participant working on computer repairs.

Source: Urban Technology Project, Philadelphia, PA.

Conditions to Support Employer and Workplace Success

Registered Apprenticeship programs exist as part of larger organizations that must include DEIA-supportive practices for the program to succeed in its equity goals. This section addresses two key areas that are critical to promoting equity and success for all employees and apprentices: employer readiness, and leadership and staff diversity.

 

Employer Readiness

Employer readiness refers to the commitment, culture, and capacity needed to drive organizational change. Employers should prioritize these practices, and developers of Registered Apprenticeship programs should look for them in employer partners. Employers who invest in readiness help ensure their work environments fully support the success of all employees, including apprentices.

Important ways employers can increase their changes of success:

  • Establish DEIA goals and clearly articulate the value of DEIA to the organization.

  • Make a clear commitment to DEIA with internal and external stakeholders through ongoing activities and well-defined policies that drive equity across the organization.

  • Value the identities and experiences of all employees through daily practices, from recruitment to continued employee development, and support individual agency (culture of belonging).

  • Dedicate organizational resources to facilitate sustainable and impactful change, build partnerships that advance equity, and support program design strategies that center DEIA, such as creating cohorts among apprentices. 

  • Engage cross-functional teams, including executive leadership, operations, people and culture, and former apprentices, to ensure that the RA program provides equal opportunity for advancement within the organization’s career pathways.

  • Evaluate DEIA practices regularly to assess effectiveness, and identify areas for growth and improvement—for example, by analyzing pay equity and demographic representation across positions.

 

Leadership and Staff Diversity

To make progress on DEIA efforts, an employer’s culture should value diversity, equity, inclusion, and access across all levels of staffing and leadership. Hiring employees from diverse backgrounds, building leadership teams that reflect the community, providing equitable access to advancement for every employee, and investing capacity and resources into building DEIA practices and training supports the long-term organizational success of a wide range of apprentices.

The range of tactics below can help create inclusive and diverse workplace cultures:

  • Evaluate hiring practices regularly to ensure they are accessible and inclusive of diverse populations, including by reviewing your outreach practices, job requirements, and evaluation practices (diverse forms assessment).

  • Assess staff members’ skills using multiple tactics, including work samples and panel interviews.

  • Evaluate existing job requirements, such as prior years of work experience and credentials or degrees, and remove them if they create unnecessary barriers to entry.

  • Support ongoing talent development by providing mentorship, individualized career plans, personalized skill building and training, and access to professional development and educational opportunities.

  • Implement comprehensive family medical leave and parental leave policies to drive equity and access to work and advancement opportunities for all employees, including by taking action to provide apprentices and employees access to reproductive health care, such as abortion access.

  • Provide regular career exploration and navigation opportunities to all employees to help them understand and access the career pathways available to them inside and outside of the organization.

  • Create a culture of belonging through affinity groups and regular solicitation and use of employee feedback in the design of policies, practices, and workplace culture.

  • Evaluate diversity at every level of the organization, including the board of directors, and take actionable steps to increase diversity and representation.

Photo of a training program participant working on computer repairs.

Source: Urban Technology Project, Philadelphia, PA. 

Program Management Elements

This section offers considerations and promising practices for developing RA structures that address wage disparity, occupational segregation, and talent recruitment and retention. Use these tactics when building your program to support data-driven decision-making that can support the removal of barriers and advance equity and access for workers from diverse backgrounds.

 

Provide Livable Wages and Advancement Opportunities

Providing livable, market-rate wages is an essential equity practice in apprenticeship. While the RA system has made progress on its demographic diversity, apprentices continue to face different wage outcomes by race and gender. Apprenticeship sponsors can change this by connecting more people to the highest-wage opportunities within the RA system. Providing apprentices with advancement support will also help narrow long-term wage gaps.

Below are tactics and design considerations for driving wage equity and advancement for all apprentices:

  • Provide competitive, market-rate, livable wages that consider cost-of-living adjustments—for occupations with historically low wages, programs should offer a $15-per-hour starting wage.

  • Be transparent about starting and ending wages by adhering to RA guidelines and clearly articulating wage progressions, including how they are determined and when they are provided. 

  • Provide information to apprentices to help them understand the career pathways and advancement opportunities supported by their RA training.

  • Use RA training to expand pathways to mid- and senior-level positions by providing longer-term RA training or a series of stackable apprenticeships.

  • Offer multiple industry-recognized credentials that align with labor market demand to increase access to advancement opportunities and occupational pathways.

  • Support college credit attainment by collaborating with postsecondary partners.

  • Ensure apprentices’ work and contributions are valued and respected and meaningfully contribute to the organization’s goals.

Partnership consideration: Identify training partners (e.g., community-based organizations, community colleges, Minority Serving Institutions (MSIs) to provide college credit and degree-level credentials. Collaborate with workforce partners to identify credentials for inclusion in RA training.

 

Incorporate Participant Voice Authentically and Build Cultures of Belonging

Work and training environments that reflect and support participants’ diverse needs and experiences can drive DEIA in RA. RA programs are intensive, and completion is a challenge across all demographic groups. When organizations consistently and authentically incorporate apprentice feedback into program design and create a sense of belonging, apprentices feel more invested in, connected to, and supported by their training, which can help improve persistence and completion.

The following are some strategies for building these affirming environments:

  • Incorporate apprentice voice intentionally and clearly into your program design through apprentice advisory groups, surveys of participants, regular check-ins in which they can offer feedback on their experiences, and engagement with alumni.

  • Provide regular opportunities for apprentices to reflect on their training, including the skills they are building, the aspects of the work they are most interested in, and how this connects to their long-term career goals.

  • Build inclusive and supportive learning and work environments by incorporating practices and policies that acknowledge that apprentices carry life experiences outside of their training that may affect how they can show up and engage (healing-informed approach).

  • Provide accommodations and design work environments to fully meet the needs of all physical abilities, empowering apprentices and prioritizing safety.

  • Affirm race, ethnicity, gender, and ability as assets within apprentices; design programs in ways that use these assets and build on these strengths.

  • Eliminate any form of discrimination or sexual harassment and make clear that such conduct is not acceptable by any in the organization, including leadership. 
  • Create learning environments representative of apprentices and their lived experiences by using materials reflective of apprentices, modeling expectations, and engaging in instructional practices representative of apprentices’ cultures (cultural humility).

Partnership consideration: Engage partners that have expertise in curriculum design, healing-centered practices, inclusive instruction, and DEIA. They can provide training, revise curricula, and support the design of classroom and training environments.

 

Invest in Equitable Data Practices to Inform Program Design

Data collection is critical for continuous program improvement and allows program sponsors to evaluate the impact of DEIA efforts. RA program demographic data demonstrate the effectiveness of new recruitment practices and point to opportunities for improvement. Tracking retention and completion rates as well as wages can provide further insights into the need to create better support services or a more inclusive work environment. Additionally, post-apprenticeship advancement data can help identify whether RA programs set up apprentices for long-term career success with an employer. The collective patterns that emerge from these metrics can support holistic decision-making to enhance program outcomes.

The following are some tactics to help build a foundation for effective data-driven decision-making:

  • Identify processes and metrics to track DEIA impact and progress, and invest in staff members to manage data collection and analysis.

  • Conduct analysis of industry trends, local demographics, wages, and educational barriers to ensure equitable practices at all levels of the apprenticeship lifecycle. 
  • Utilize data to understand how the organization, and its apprenticeship program, reflects the diversity of the community it serves, to identify gaps and opportunities for enhancing efforts to recruit and retain a more diverse workforce.

  • Ensure that data is open and accessible, to allow individual access to data formatted in an understandable and usable way, including by clearly defining data fields and metadata.

  • Recognize the sensitivity and concerns some individuals may have regarding data collection by being transparent with apprentices about your data practices, including what data you will gather and why and changes in outcomes year by year.

  • Ensure apprentices understand the difference between self-identification and self-disclosure of their disability status.

  • Keep self-identification surveys separate from employee information such as wage scales and benefits, and inform participants of this process.

Partnership consideration: Partner with entities that can expand access to DEIA data to help empower apprenticeship stakeholders, policymakers, and decision makers to act. This could also include partnering with organizations that can help with data collection and analysis, determining methodology, and creating processes and training materials.

Photo of 3 people participating in healthcare training, learning how to use a stethoscope.

Source: American YouthWorks, Austin, TX. 

Apprentice Experience Elements

The following program design elements build upon the U.S. Department of Labor’s RA program design structure while centering the apprentice experience. These elements emphasize tactics and practices that promote equity and access for all workers and learners to hands-on learning, classroom instruction, and credential attainment. They also outline important practices to remove barriers to participation and support persistence and completion in training. Use these tactics when building your program to support equitable and inclusive program design.

 

Use Transparent and Accessible Practices to Diversify Recruitment

The first interaction apprentices will have with an apprenticeship program will occur during outreach and recruitment. To ensure that programs are equitable, inclusive, and accessible, outreach practices and materials should be shared with a range of communities and in ways that allow for different forms of engagement and interaction.

The following tactics can help programs engage with and recruit a wide range of jobseekers from various backgrounds and experiences:

  • Find candidates from different backgrounds by reaching out to and engaging with a range of community, workforce, and education partners.

  • Ensure that recruitment materials are accessible and include images and language that can speak to a wide audience.

  • Ensure that staff members who are responsible for recruitment reflect the diversity of the community.

  • Remove questions about conviction records as part of the application process, except in cases where it is required by specific job eligibility criteria (ban the box).

  • Clearly convey entry and success requirements. Offer support to help participants meet any prerequisites, and ensure that the referral, intake, and orientation processes are accessible.

  • Ensure all learners can access assessments or pre-work required for program entry by providing accessible materials, offering different ways for participants to demonstrate knowledge, and providing testing accommodations (accessibility).

  • Provide on-ramps to apprenticeship, including pre-apprenticeship and other training opportunities, to increase access to training for more workers.

  • Solicit feedback from participants on the entry experience, and incorporate their perspectives and feedback to improve practices.

Partnership consideration: Strategic partnerships can drive diversity in recruitment. Consider building relationships with local or regional community-based organizations, faith-based organizations, local workforce boards, Minority Serving Institutions, historically black colleges and universities, vocational rehabilitation services, K-12 schools, and reentry organizations.

 

Design Training and Classroom Instruction to be Accessible and Representative of Participants

Equitable apprenticeships not only get people from a wide range of backgrounds in the door, but they also set up each apprentice for success throughout the program and beyond. To achieve this and ensure all participants can benefit, programs must design training and classroom instruction to be accessible to everyone regardless of learning needs or preferences or physical ability. It is equally important that on-the-job training and classroom environments and instruction represent program participants.

The following tactics support accessible and inclusive training and instruction:

  • Establish a clear training plan that details the knowledge and skills the apprentice will learn on the job to become fully competent.  

  • Ensure that classroom and on-the-job instruction are accessible to all participants, including by offering materials in multiple languages and providing apprentices with a range of ways to demonstrate knowledge gains (universal design for learning).

  • Integrate learning strategies that help participants understand how the skills they are developing relate to the work they will be doing on the job and provide opportunities for active learning, problem-based learning, and reflection (contextualized learning).

  • Empower learners by supporting individual agency, providing opportunities for peer teaching, offering autonomous learning options, and recognizing the apprentices’ contributions to the organizational environment.

  • Follow Americans With Disabilities Act guidelines and design work environments to be accessible to all physical abilities, in part by providing adaptive tools and equipment and proper accommodation to participants as needed (accessibility).

  • Ensure adequate information is shared with apprentices, employers, and intermediaries regarding ADA rights and compliance, as well as resources regarding workplace accommodations.

Partnership consideration: Identify and develop partnerships with entities such as vocational rehabilitation partners, educational providers, and community-based organizations that can help design and provide accessible training and accommodations or can support the purchase of adaptive tools and accessible program materials.

Partnership consideration: Identify and develop partnerships with entities such as vocational rehabilitation partners, educational providers, and community-based organizations that can help design and provide accessible training and accommodations or can support the purchase of adaptive tools and accessible program materials.

 

Provide Comprehensive and Quality Mentorship to Participants

Mentorship in Registered Apprenticeship helps participants learn the details of their occupation and workplace while providing coaching and guidance to support them in their training. Mentors can expose participants to advancement opportunities, foster career exploration, and create a culture of inclusion.

The following mentorship program design strategies enable all participants to thrive and succeed:

  • Recruit and engage mentors with backgrounds representative of the community and the program’s participants. 

  • Establish goals and a clear purpose for the mentorship program in partnership with mentors and apprentices.

  • Provide training to mentors to help them support apprentices from different backgrounds. This could include training on DEIA, how to center and empower apprentices, and how to deliver culturally relevant and accessible learning and training. 

  • Support accessibility by offering multiple ways for mentors and mentees to connect, such as in person, virtually, or in group settings.

  • Ensure that mentors have mechanisms to continue supporting apprentices after they have completed the program.

Partnership consideration: Find partners to support mentor training. This can include engaging partners to deliver training, develop or offer resources, or provide funding to support mentorship programs. This can also include networking with other programs to help provide racial- and gender-conscious mentoring online or in person.

 

Support Participant Success With Robust and Responsive Retention Services

Apprentices will not fully access the value and opportunity of an apprenticeship unless they can complete their training. Employers, RA sponsors, and those designing programs should invest in removing barriers to completion to ensure all apprentices can successfully complete.

The following are tactics for designing programs that help all apprentices fully engage with their training and support completion:

  • Meet regularly with apprentices to discuss their needs, and work with them to develop individualized plans and make connections to services and partners as needed.
  • Remove financial barriers to participation by covering the costs of uniforms, training materials, testing fees, equipment, and other costs.
  • Provide services and support through partnerships and robust referral networks that can help provide resources such as transportation, housing, food access, and mental health services. 
  • Use public workforce funding, including Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) Employment and Training and Workforce Investment Opportunity Act dollars, to increase access to training and expand services and supports for apprentices.
  • Connect apprentices to navigators and mentors who can help them access services and troubleshoot challenges during training. This could include providing technical or employability skill building, wraparound services, and assistance in navigating the workplace.
  • Introduce apprentices to employers, community partners, and other stakeholders to build their professional networks (social capital).

Partnership consideration: Collaborate with community-based organizations, service agencies, workforce and education partners, and others to identify resources to support apprentices. Work with partners to determine which organization is best positioned to provide resources, and employ apprentice navigators and mentors to connect participants to needed services.

Join an upcoming event or request individual support to learn more about implementing the Program Design Framework at your organization. 

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Acknowledgements

  • Diana Elliott, Urban Institute 
  • Edison Freire, JEVS Human Services 
  • Christopher Hope, The Loop Lab 
  • Casandra Hockenberry, Council of State Governments 
  • David Hoff and Mary K. DiBiase, University of Massachusetts Boston, Institute for Community Inclusion 
  • Brandi Mandato, JFF 
  • Eric Seleznow, JFF (former) 

About JFF

Jobs for the Future (JFF) drives transformation of the American workforce and education systems to achieve equitable economic advancement for all.  www.jff.org

 

About JFF’s Center for Apprenticeship & Work-Based Learning

JFF is a national nonprofit that drives transformation in the American workforce and education systems. For nearly 40 years, JFF has led the way in designing innovative and scalable solutions that create access to economic advancement for all. In 2017, JFF launched the Center for Apprenticeship & Work-Based Learning (the Center) to spur mainstream adoption of equitable, innovative, and high-quality apprenticeship and work-based learning programs. The Center works to expand apprenticeship and work-based learning programs into new industries and fosters access and success for a broader, more diverse group of workers. Learn more at www.jff.org/center.

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Learn more at apprenticeship.gov.