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  • Writer's pictureOlivia Liu

Observation : How Workforce Training Accommodates Learners of All Backgrounds

Updated: Sep 13, 2023

The various ways educators and employers adjust the formats of their courses to fit the needs of learners of all backgrounds and privileges.

Thomas P. Dalton IDEA Center in Martinsville, VA

Workforce development education requires flexible curriculums and course formats that extend beyond traditional classroom instruction. The unique career goals of each student influence the optimal duration and depth of the courses they take. The financial means of each student affect which institutions they can attend and how quickly they hope to enter the workforce. The geographical location of each student determines the time they must commute to pursue training opportunities. Ultimately, the training a student receives supports their long-term livelihood. The efficacy of any institution’s curriculums should be equal across learners of all backgrounds and privileges.

Mobile Training Facilities

Although the communities of the institutions I studied remained economically integrated with external communities, some experienced unchangeable geographic isolations. For this reason, all the educational institutions offered some form of remote or mobile learning.

North Central State College’s distance learning program was highlighted in the United States Department of Agriculture’s Rural Workforce Development Resource Guide. Funded by a 2015 utility grant, North Central wired video conferencing equipment in its learning and outreach centers to extend college-level STEM courses to students in rural Ohio.

Several schools also construct mobile learning spaces by fitting classrooms and labs into trailers. North Central’s climate-controlled trailer, lined with whiteboards, can be powered electrically or by a generator. The interior boasts four multi-media display screens and can house thirteen computer stations. The equipment is used to teach hydraulics, pneumatics, and electrical classes. Similarly, Patrick Henry Community College has a “Mobile Learning Lab” that brings an advanced engineering and mechatronics training space to various companies for onsite employee training. 

The unique career goals of each student influence the optimal duration and depth of the courses they take.


The simplest way for learners to gain real-life experience in their desired jobs is through on-the-job training (OJT), in which they gain skills by working under an employer. The direct hands-on practice that OJT provides learners eliminates the need for them to enroll in separate classroom training, making the learning process more efficient. Apprenticeships are a category of OJT. Although the apprenticeship system thrives in countries such as Germany and Australia, it is less prominent in the United States for several reasons.

From an employer’s perspective, starting an apprenticeship takes a lot of time and work. Employers must register with the Department of Labor (DOL), seek state approval for their proposed apprenticeships, and compete with other employers for funding from local and state workforce boards.

Small-scale employers with few resources are inherently more selective about whom they offer apprenticeships. Often, employers are unsure that the skills they want from apprentices are adequately taught by career technical education (CTE) providers (i.e., K-12 institutions and community colleges). As a result, employers prefer offering apprenticeships to individuals with previous work experience. Simultaneously, students freshly graduated from CTE training view apprenticeships as opportunities to gain the work experience that employers want them to have beforehand. The misunderstanding creates a circle of miscommunication between the supply (employers) and demand (learners) of the apprenticeship system.

Gateway Technical College demonstrates how cross-sector communication between educators and employers mends the supply-demand disconnect within the apprenticeship system. Gateway partners with one company that requires aspiring apprentices to complete one semester of Gateway instruction. By contributing to the material that Gateway curriculums teach, the company is confident in the quality of Gateway’s CTE.

Some apprenticeships are administered by educational institutions in partnership with local employers. The Westmoreland Community College (WCC) offers a four-year Industrial Maintenance Mechanic Apprenticeship that provides learners 600 hours of industry-verified technical instruction and 2,000 hours of on-the-job training at a company worksite. The curriculum covers electrical, mechanical, hydraulics, pneumatics & welding, and soft skills.

Certification and Credit Programs

Competency-based programs can shorten the duration of training by granting learners credentials once they attain a specific set of skills. Certification and credit programs are powerful tools for learners hoping to fast-track their path to the workforce.

The manufacturing corporation JR Automation offers an internship that leads high school students through comprehensive on-the-job training, from which students earn a trade card and certificate upon graduation. Currently, JR Automation certifies machine builders, CNC machinists, and electricians.

North Central State College administers a nationally recognized credit program called College Credit Plus (CCP). Under the CCP initiative, college-ready students in grades 7-12 can take in-person engineering courses at North Central and any other Ohio public college free of cost. Any credits earned from North Central can be transferred to another college and used toward earning a bachelor’s degree.

Certification and credit programs are powerful tools for learners hoping to fast-track their path to the workforce. 

North Central also runs a dual enrollment program called CollegeNow in partnership with the local Mansfield City School District. Qualifying high school juniors can earn Associate degrees in Engineering Technology during 11th and 12th grade while meeting all high school graduation requirements. CollegeNow enables students to begin their careers immediately after graduation without the burden of college debt.

The Career Academy gives high school students in Martinsville the opportunity to gain technical skill credentials in hopes that youth have more educational and career options after graduation. While enrolled, some students acquire as many as nine certificates, all of which prepare them for skilled work. Of the Career Academy’s industrial maintenance class, 80% of students chose to enter the workforce straight after graduation. The remaining 20% either attended prestigious four-year colleges and local community colleges or enlisted in the military.

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