By Enmanuel Gomez Antolinez

Learning and upskilling can be a life-long pursuit in the dynamic, constantly changing U.S. economy. Educational opportunities for youth and young adults with disabilities (Y&YAD) should reflect this reality. But all too often, they encounter barriers to acquiring knowledge, learning new skills and accessing general workplace experience.

Apprenticeships are an important and rapidly expanding pathway for all individuals, including Y&YAD. In the 2021 fiscal year, more than 241,000 new apprentices entered the national apprenticeship system. However, research demonstrates apprenticeships are not always accessible to everyone since they may require certain skills or experiences to enter. Pre-apprenticeships are one pathway that prepares Y&YAD for apprenticeships and makes apprenticeships more accessible by providing work-based learning, academic knowledge and professional skills. Several states, including North Carolina, are developing pre-apprenticeships specifically for Y&YAD to support them in their path to apprenticeship and full-time employment.

According to the U.S Department of Labor “pre-apprenticeships are designed to prepare individuals for entry into Registered Apprenticeship Programs (RAP) or other job opportunities.” These programs can play a valuable role in initiating career pathways for anyone, including Y&YAD. Pre-apprenticeships are available in a range of industries including health care, information technology, manufacturing, hospitality and retail.

A notable resource for policymakers is Getting Started with Pre-Apprenticeship: Partnership’s Primer, which provides detailed information on pre-apprenticeships, partnerships, program development and funding.

As outlined in the primer, pre-apprenticeships benefit both states and Y&YAD because they:

  • Have the potential to increase annual earnings and employment of workers with disabilities.
  • Are designed to give people of color, women, Y&YAD and other underrepresented populations the skills, confidence and connections they need to be successful.
  • Provide an effective workforce development strategy that results in a net benefit to society and diversifies the talent pipeline of skilled workers.
  • Provide academic knowledge and skills training tailored to specific jobs and industries for participants who face barriers to employment.

The North Carolina Career Launch is an example of a state-supported pre-apprenticeship for Y&YAD. This program provides a series of curricula that give students opportunities to gain knowledge, experience and credentials that lead to jobs in high-demand fields and a living wage. One of the North Carolina Career Launch programs within the health care industry is the Pre-Nursing Careers Vocational Rehabilitation Youth Apprenticeship. This pre-apprenticeship program provides paid on-the-job learning to high school students with disabilities as well as employment and professional development skills and work and training preparation.

In order to successfully implement these programs and provide the right support and practical skills to students with disabilities, there must be a clear relationship with vocational rehabilitation offices to pilot the program, as well as register the program statewide so it does not have to be replicated again. State agencies can collaborate to provide Y&YAD with pre-apprenticeship opportunities like the one in North Carolina.

Diverse pre-apprenticeships have the potential to support Y&YAD to access a career path that offers living wages and benefits. These jobs are an opportunity to prepare and support students for success and ensure they are prepared to be successful in their apprenticeship.

For more information about pre-apprenticeships, please visit:

Recommended Posts