Bridge programs for hard-to-employ adults

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) with industry-specific training. 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. Programs can be implemented on their own but are most often included as the first step in career pathways programs or as an early component of sector-based workforce initiatives aimed at increasing participants’ skill levels enough to continue progressing in a career pathway (, Upjohn-King 2015). Programs are also called occupationally contextualized basic education programs.

Expected Beneficial Outcomes (Rated)

  • Increased employment

  • Increased earnings

  • Increased academic achievement

Other Potential Beneficial Outcomes

  • Increased industry credentials

Evidence of Effectiveness

Bridge programs that combine basic education and skills training, particularly as a part of career pathways programs and sector-based workforce initiatives, are a suggested strategy to increase employment, earnings, and educational attainment via acquisition of industry credentials by 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 within career pathways can increase acquisition of industry credentials (OPRE-Gardiner 2017, OPRE-Hamadyk 2018, OPRE-Martinson 2018a, OPRE-Martinson 2018b, Urban-Eyster 2018, OPRE-Rolston 2017, CCRC-Zeidenberg 2010). Overall, program participation may not increase employment or earnings in the first several years after enrollment (OPRE-Hamadyk 2018, Urban-Eyster 2018, CCRC-Zeidenberg 2010). However, an early study of Carreras en Salud, part of the Pathways for Advancing Career and Education (PACE) program, suggests structured health care training pathways that incorporate contextualized basic education may increase employment among participants in this sector within 18 months of enrollment (OPRE-Martinson 2018a).

Impact on Disparities

Likely to decrease disparities

Implementation Examples

Bridge 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 2018* - Couch KA, Ross MB, Vavrek J. Career Pathways and integrated instruction: A national program review of I-BEST implementations. Journal of Labor Research. 2018;(39):99-125.

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.

Urban-Eyster 2018 - Eyster L, Anderson T, Lerman RI, et al. Findings from the accelerating opportunity evaluation. Urban Institute. 2018:1-25.

OPRE-Rolston 2017 - Rolston H, Copson E, Gardiner K. Valley initiative for development and advancement: Implementation and early impact report. Office of Planning, Research and Evaluation (OPRE), Administration for Children and Families (ACF), US Department of Health and Human Services (US DHHS). 2017.

OPRE-Martinson 2018b - Glosser A, Martinson K, Cho SW, Gardiner K. Washington state’s Integrated Basic Education and Skills Training (I-BEST) program in three colleges: Implementation and early impact report. Office of Planning, Research, and Evaluation (OPRE), Administration for Children and Families (ACF), US Department of Health and Human Services (US DHHS). 2018.

OPRE-Martinson 2018a - Martinson K, Copson E, Gardiner K, Kitrosser D. Instituto del progreso Latino’s Carreras en Salud program: Implementation and early impact report. Office of Planning, Research, and Evaluation (OPRE), Administration for Children and Families (ACF), US Department of Health and Human Services (US DHHS). 2018.

OPRE-Hamadyk 2018 - Hamadyk J, Zeidenberg M. Des Moines area community college workforce training academy connect program: Implementation and early impact report. Office of Planning, Research, and Evaluation (OPRE), Administration for Children and Families (ACF), US Department of Health and Human Services (US DHHS). 2018.

OPRE-Gardiner 2017 - Gardiner K, Rolston H, Fein D, Cho SW. Pima community college pathways to healthcare program: Implementation and early impact report. Office of Planning, Research, and Evaluation (OPRE), Administration for Children and Families (ACF), US Department of Health and Human Services (US DHHS). 2017.

Citations - Implementation Examples

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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

Mar 1, 2019