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Report: ‘On-Ramp’ Programs Help Working-Class Adults Achieve Upward Mobility

Over 32 million working-class American adults with less than a two-year degree are being left behind in today’s job market. A new category of career “on-ramp” programs can help this group achieve upward mobility by increasing their skills and employability that can successfully help them transition to financially stable careers.

That’s the findings in a new report by Strada Institute for the Future of Work and Entangled Solutions. The report was designed to encourage employers, investors, funders, entrepreneurs and policymakers to revisit the possibility of using the program model to help working adults obtain enhancement and growth.

“There’s so much innovation going on in postsecondary education, but so much of the funding right now is going towards solutions that are geared toward the well-educated or the already educated, and we’re very concerned about this huge swath of the population that could be left behind by the future of work,” said Dr. Michelle Weise, lead author of the report and chief innovation officer for Strada Institute for the Future of Work.

Fifty-eight percent of the $170 billion that employers annually invest in formal training goes toward adult workers who have a bachelor’s degree and work in higher-paying professional and managerial positions, the report said.

In addition, venture capital disproportionately goes towards solutions geared towards adults with a bachelor’s degree than for working class adults.

Dr. Michelle WeiseDr. Michelle Weise

On-ramps are short-term training programs designed to help adults without postsecondary credentials obtain in-demand skills needed to achieve educational and economic success. Most on-ramps combine human and skills training, experiential learning opportunities, intensive assessments and screening and job placement and advancement services, according to the report.

Affordability is also an important factor for on-ramp program participants, which is why they’re “very low cost” to join, Weise said. Some programs leverage an apprentice-type model and others are very affordable or paid by an employer.

Working with on-ramps also benefits the employer, Weise said.

“There’s a lot of friction removed in the sense that they can kind of try out these learners in a low-stakes assessment environment where they can hire someone as an intern or as an apprentice, see their performance and then can hire directly from these on-ramp programs that also provide these kinds of important wraparound services for this very high-needs population.”

It is also important to note that on-ramps are not the same as last-mile training providers, apprenticeships, federally funded job training programs and community and technical college programs.

However, Weise believes that there’s an opportunity for community colleges, technical colleges and small private colleges to “take these models and run with them.”

“This could be a great way to leverage something that already works and tailor it for a specific region or town or within a community college or a small college,” Weise said. “Again the whole purpose of this is to kind of put out a call to all these different stakeholders and the workforce in higher ed ecosystem to say ‘Why don’t we just take what clearly works and help empower more people to get access to these kinds of programs?’”

Currently, there are approximately 65 programs that fall into the on-ramp category. The report authors focused on the experiences of adult learners who participated in the following adult-focused on-ramps that represent nonprofit organizations, for-profit providers and a workforce board: STRIVE International, i.c.stars, JobTrain, Per Scholas, JVS San Francisco, LaunchCode, Philadelphia Works, Samaschool and Techtonic.

One of those program participants was Kisha Mickels. Mickels had pursued several job opportunities at the University of California-San Francisco (UCSF), but never received an offer.

After hearing about JVS San Francisco from her best friend and attending an orientation, Mickels joined JVS’s Excel program. Her experience in Excel helped her to get “my life together with a career at UCSF,” she said.

“I feel like Excel helped me to get my permanent position because the networking the informational interviews, the targeting of your resume, without all of that information that was given to me, I probably wouldn’t be where I am today,” Mickels said. “I didn’t want to go back out into the work field, I wanted to find a career and this was the perfect opportunity for me, so I just ran with it.”

Mickels and her cohort received training in those areas and learned how to effectively showcase those skills on her resume to help her stand out. After completing the program, Mickels received a job offer at UCSF.

The on-ramps are still in their early stages of development, with some only serving one to two dozen adults at a time whereas community college programs serve around one million working-adults per year.

“The results from these programs are heartening: They are connecting Americans to good jobs and promising careers by targeting existing jobs in demand in the local labor market,” the report said.

Approximately 100,000 people out of the total population of 32 million working-class adults are utilizing on-ramp programs annually, the report found. In contrast, community college programs serve 10 times as many working-class adults.

The authors of the report outlined five key opportunities for stakeholders and organizations in the social impact investing space to utilize the on-ramp model:

  • Improve the analysis of program economics
  • Implement “try-before-you-buy” outsourced apprenticeship models to reduce risk for employers and develop sustainable revenue streams
  • Position on-ramps as robust talent pipeline solutions for employers
  • Extend support services beyond job placement for retention and advancement
  • Sell themselves as robust talent pipelines, by providing a sound business case that includes measures such as ROI and long-term employee success

Collaborating with on-ramps or establishing a program based on the on-ramps can help determine “how to take what is here and multiply the impact in order to empower the 32 million working-class Americans at risk of being left behind by the future of work,” the report said.

In addition, obtaining more performance data on existing on-ramp programs can help employers better understand the risks and benefits of partnering with the programs, the authors said in the report.

“Without deliberate focus on scaling the innovative work of on-ramps, we run the risk that a solution well-suited to a large number of working-class Americans will remain underdeveloped. There is great promise in these seedling efforts, even as we scrutinize the challenges and barriers facing on-ramps. These innovative solutions must spread, so that we do not leave people behind as we face the future of work. Scaling on-ramps to better economic opportunities is the first step to building a more inclusive and equitable learning ecosystem of the future.”

Monica Levitan can be reached at [email protected]. You can follow her on Twitter @monlevy_.

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