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Wednesday, November 20, 2019

Op-ed: We Can Advance Racial Equity in Kentucky by Investing in Pre-apprenticeship



By: Wonda Winkler, Executive Vice President at Brighton Center, Inc

One of our core values at Brighton Center is a commitment to diversity, inclusion, and racial equity. That core value is driven by the fundamental belief that our society will only truly be fair when people of every race and ethnicity have an equal opportunity to succeed as well as equitable access to the tools, resources, and support they need to reach that success.


The unfortunate reality is that far too many Kentuckians are struggling to achieve economic security for themselves and their families, especially people of color. And while our state has made advancing and promoting apprenticeship programs a priority and is seeing some momentum, we must still work to build out and expand these efforts across the Commonwealth, including Northern Kentucky, to best support working families. We must also broaden the apprenticeship pipeline for people of color by investing in pre-apprenticeship programs.

Some efforts within the state include the Kentucky Advanced Technical College High (KTECH) program, the New Skills for Youth (NSFY) initiative funded by JPMorgan Chase & Co, and Tech Ready Youth Apprentices for Careers in Kentucky (TRACK). KTECH is designed for students in grades 9-12 plus 2 to ensure they have the skills employers need to fill well-paying middle and high demand jobs.

One way that will occur is through work-based learning. As one of the states funded for NSFY, Kentucky seeks to transform the delivery of career and technical education by increasing access to dual credit, industry recognized credentials, demand sector career pathways in demand sectors, and work-based learning. TRACK provides secondary students with seamless career pathway opportunities into Registered Apprenticeships.

These efforts are definitely a step in the right direction and are exactly the kind of meaningful workforce policy solutions that would help meet our state’s future workforce needs. It is important to ensure that opportunities and outcomes exist for everyone as these initiatives are being built. In particular, increasing economic opportunities for people of color requires developing relationships even before developing skills through job training. Therein lies the value of pre-apprenticeship programs.

Pre-apprenticeship programs also need our collective focus and attention, and are critical to leveling the playing field for workers of color who may not have the professional network to access high-wage industries like construction, manufacturing, transportation, or health care. This is especially important given the income disparities between people of color and White Americans.

For example, a recent report by National Skills Coalition – The Roadmap for Racial Equity – states that Black apprentices still earn the lowest exit wages of all apprentices (about $14 per hour median wage) compared to about $26 per hour for White apprentices.

Not to mention that more than half of Black workers and 60 percent of Latinx workers nationally are paid less than $15 per hour. Or that women of color and foreign-born women are overrepresented in low-wage jobs like personal care aides ($11.11 per hour average wage) and home health aides ($11.16 per hour) compared to high-wage jobs like registered nurses ($33.65 per hour), which tend to skew White.

Effective pre-apprenticeship programs for youth and adults will allow them to explore a variety of work environments, learn the basic technical skills to succeed in a particular industry, and receive the mentorship, coaching, and support services needed to succeed and complete training – such as child care and transportation assistance.

As apprenticeship, pre-apprenticeship, and work-based learning opportunities are initiated, strengthened, or expanded, it is vital to remember the important role and voice that employers must have in this process. Their willingness to be deeply and fully engaged in partnership with education and workforce development practitioners must occur to ensure the best outcome for the current and future workforce, especially pertaining to diversity, inclusion, and equity. 

Lawmakers should require data disaggregated by race on pre-apprenticeship programs and they should use that data to target investments to organizations that have a demonstrated track record of effectiveness in serving people of color.


There’s no doubt that pre-apprenticeship programs aren’t the only solution. But they’re a crucial component to helping address the education, employment, and income disparities that persist in our state and country.

Wonda Winkler is Executive Vice President at Brighton Center, Inc, a non-profit organization based in Newport, KY.

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