Social & Economic Factors Education Employment Income Family & Social Support Community Safety Search Policies & Programs

Display All Policies & Programs

Basic education & work training programs for hard-to-employ adults

Health Factors: Education Employment
Decision Makers: Educators Employers & Businesses Local Government State Government Federal Government Nonprofit Leaders
Evidence Rating: Expert Opinion
Population Reach: 50-99% of WI's population
Impact on Disparities: Likely to decrease disparities

Is this program or policy in use in your community? Tell us about it.


Basic education and training programs for low-skilled, unemployed adults, often called career pathway and bridge programs or career ladders, teach basic skills (e.g., reading, math, writing, English language, or soft skills) and offer industry-specific training. Educational opportunities are designed to increase employment and build potential for promotion in high-growth industries and sectors. For example, a health care career ladder program can train hospital food service workers to become Certified Nursing Assistants (CNAs) and provide further training for CNAs to become Certified Medical Assistants (CMAs) or Licensed Practical Nurses (LPNs) (Mathematica-Gash 2010). Programs often include hands-on courses closely tied to in-demand jobs, coursework which transitions smoothly between basic and postsecondary education, and additional supports for low income and at-risk students.

Expected Beneficial Outcomes

Increased job quality
Expanded workforce availability
Increased employment
Increased earnings
Increased academic achievement

Evidence of Effectiveness

Basic education & work training programs, in the form of career pathways and incumbent worker training programs, are suggested strategies to improve job quality within firms and the quality of available workers to fill open positions (Urban-Martinson 2010, Urban-Holzer 2008). Available evidence suggests that participation in career pathway and bridge programs can increase educational attainment (CCRC-Zeidenberg 2010), employment, and wages for low-skilled adult workers, especially when programs are industry-centered (Mathematica-Gash 2010, Maguire 2009). However, additional evidence is needed to confirm effects.


United States

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). Arkansas Career Pathways Initiative and Washington State’s I-BEST program are two examples of comprehensive state career pathway and bridge programs (AR Pathways, WA-I-BEST). Other states have developed similar bridge and pathway programs.


There are some career pathways/bridges programs in Wisconsin, including the Wisconsin Regional Training Partnership (WRTP)/BIG STEP, and the Regional Industry Skills Education (RISE) Initiative. The RISE program is a joint project between the Department of Workforce Development (DWD) and the Wisconsin Technical Colleges to promote job training and employment in regional industries (RISE). WRTP/BIG STEP’s Center of Excellence for Skilled Trades and Industry provides assessment, preparation and placements for job candidates, also working with employers, unions, and community organizations (WRTP).

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. Accessed on December 7, 2015

Citations - Description

Mathematica-Gash 2010 - Gash A, Mack M. Career ladders and pathways for the hard-to-employ. Princeton: Mathematica Policy Research (MPR); 2010. Accessed on March 1, 2016

Citations - Evidence

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. Accessed on November 23, 2015
Maguire 2009 - Maguire S, Freely J, Clymer C, Conway M. Job training that works: Findings from the sectoral employment impact study. Philadelphia: Public/Private Ventures (P/PV); 2009. Accessed on March 1, 2016
Mathematica-Gash 2010 - Gash A, Mack M. Career ladders and pathways for the hard-to-employ. Princeton: Mathematica Policy Research (MPR); 2010. Accessed on March 1, 2016
Urban-Holzer 2008 - Holzer HJ. Workforce development and the disadvantaged: New directions for 2009 and beyond. Washington, DC: Urban Institute; 2008. Accessed on May 20, 2016
Urban-Martinson 2010 - Martinson K. Partnering with employers to promote job advancement for low-skill individuals. Washington, DC: Urban Institute; 2010. Accessed on May 20, 2016

Citations - Implementation

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. Accessed on December 12, 2015
AR Pathways - Arkansas Career Pathways. Accessed on February 5, 2016
RISE - Regional Industry Skills Education (RISE). Together, we can create a better future for Wisconsin! Accessed on May 24, 2016
WA-I-BEST - Washington State Board for Community & Technical Colleges (SBCTC). Integrated Basic Education and Skills Training (I-BEST). Accessed on February 10, 2016
WRTP - Wisconsin Regional Training Partnership (WRTP). Center of excellence. Training that works. Accessed on November 24, 2015

Page Last Updated

October 9, 2014