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Bridge programs for hard-to-employ adults

Evidence Rating

Expert Opinion

Health Factors

Bridge programs for low-skilled, unemployed adults are basic education and training programs that teach fundamental skills (e.g., reading, math, writing, English language, or soft skills) alongside industry-specific training. Programs can be implemented on their own but are often included as the first step in sectoral strategies and career pathway programs (, Upjohn-King 2015, Mathematica-Gash 2010) to raise participants’ skill levels enough to continue progressing in a career pathway (Upjohn-King 2015). Bridge programs can include hands-on courses closely tied to in-demand jobs, and may provide additional supports for low income and at-risk students.

Expected Beneficial Outcomes (Rated)

  • Increased employment

  • Increased earnings

  • Increased academic achievement

Evidence of Effectiveness

Bridge programs combining basic education and skills training, particularly as a part of sectoral strategies and career pathways, are a suggested strategy to increase employment, educational attainment, and build potential for promotion in high-growth industries and sectors for hard-to-employ individuals (Upjohn-King 2015, Urban-Anderson 2015, ), including out of school youth (MDRC-Hossain 2015). However, additional evidence is needed to confirm effects.

Available evidence suggests that participation in bridge programs can increase educational attainment (MDRC-Hendra 2017, CCRC-Zeidenberg 2010), including the acquisition of industry-recognized credentials. However, program participation may not increase employment or earnings (CCRC-Zeidenberg 2010). When implemented outside of career pathways as standalone training for the hard-to-employ, bridge programs may not increase employment more than traditional adult basic education and vocational training ().

Successful programs often serve low income workers with strong basic skills, rather than the hard-to-employ, likely due to the difficulty of training participants without those basic skills (). 

Impact on Disparities

Likely to decrease disparities

Implementation Examples

As of 2010, 515 programs in 345 communities in 47 states and DC had bridge programs, with an additional 80 programs reportedly in development (Alssid 2010). Program examples include Washington State’s Integrated Basic Education and Skills Training (I-BEST) model and the Accelerating Opportunities initiative, both of which incorporate basic education and occupational training within career pathways (WA-I-BEST, Urban-Anderson 2015).

Implementation Resources

CCRC-Wachen 2010 - Wachen J, Jenkins D, Noy MV, et al. How I-BEST works: Findings from a field study of Washington state’s integrated basic education and skills training program. New York: Community College Research Center (CCRC); 2010.

Citations - Evidence

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CCRC-Zeidenberg 2010 - Zeidenberg M, Cho SW, Jenkins D. Washington state’s integrated basic education and skills training program (I-BEST): New evidence of effectiveness. Community College Research Center (CCRC). 2010: Working Paper 20.

Upjohn-King 2015 - King CT, Prince HJ. Chapter 8 Moving sectoral and career pathway programs from promise to scale. In: Van Horn C, Edwards T, Greene T eds. Transforming U.S. workforce development policies for the 21st century. Kalamazoo, Michigan: W.E. Upjohn Institute for Employment Research. 2015:195-230.

Couch 2017* - Couch KA, Ross MB, Vavrek J. Career Pathways and Integrated Instruction: A National Program Review of I-BEST Implementations. Journal of Labor Research; 2017.

Urban-Anderson 2015 - Anderson T, Conway M, Ester L, et al. The second year of accelerating opportunity: implementation findings from the states and colleges. Washington, DC: Urban Institute;2015.

MDRC-Hossain 2015 - Hossain F. Serving out-of-school youth under the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (2014). Manpower Demonstration Research Corporation (MDRC). 2015.

MDRC-Hendra 2017 - Hendra R. The power of career- and employer-focused training and education. Manpower Demonstration Research Corporation (MDRC). 2017.

Holzer 2017* - Holzer HJ. The role of skills and jobs in transforming communities. Cityscape: A Journal of Policy Development and Research. 2017;19(1):171-191.

Citations - Implementation Examples

* Journal subscription may be required for access.

Alssid 2010 - Alssid JL, Goldberg M, Klerk SM. Building a higher skilled workforce: Results and implications from the Bridgeconnect national survey. Barrington: Workforce Strategy Center; 2010.

WA-I-BEST - Washington State Board for Community & Technical Colleges (SBCTC). Integrated Basic Education and Skills Training (I-BEST).

Urban-Anderson 2015 - Anderson T, Conway M, Ester L, et al. The second year of accelerating opportunity: implementation findings from the states and colleges. Washington, DC: Urban Institute;2015.

Date Last Updated

Sep 28, 2017