Describes key services, meant to be delivered collaboratively amongst a network of partners, that can support individuals with complex needs, as they enter and progress along a career pathway. Findings were informed by other career pathways research, stakeholder interviews, and a survey with on-ramp program providers in Minnesota.

According to the authors, “Minnesota is experiencing a workforce challenge on three fronts as an aging population, changes in work skills needs, and growing diversity transform the state” (p.1). The authors note that even though the state is investing in postsecondary credential attainment programs, these programs have “often resulted in further segregating of the low skill and the very low skill adult participant populations” (p.1). In addition, the authors identify other challenges, such as the fact that “[m]any of the ‘bridge’ programs built to connect participants to higher education require educational functioning levels that are inaccessible to half the adult education participants in Minnesota,” and that the “[f]ailure to design career pathways to mitigate non-academic issues fails many people who come to [the state’s] programs” (p.1).

“In recognition of these challenges, the Minneapolis St Paul Workforce Innovation Network (MSPWin) engaged [the authors] to define the services and partnerships involved in career pathway ‘on-ramps’ for adults. An on-ramp is a career pathway program designed to serve individuals with significant barriers to educational and economic success. Through research, interviews, and survey, [the authors] set out to define a menu of on-ramp services that can be used to develop program models” (p.1).

In May 2016, the authors “conducted interviews with [18] stakeholders selected to represent current on-ramp or career pathways programs” (p.18). The goal of the interviews was “to define the kinds of services that make up the ‘on-ramp’ to secondary and/or postsecondary career pathways for individuals with barriers to employment” (p.18). Interview topics included the program and post-program services provided, participant profiles, performance accountability measures, program assessments, success definitions, and suggestions to enhance Minnesota’s career pathways framework.

In addition to the interviews, the authors conducted a survey of “133 Minnesota stakeholders” (p.20) in July 2016 that covered topics such as “on-ramp services essential to providing career-pathways opportunities” (p.21), barriers to providing such services, necessary funding sources, and “target populations in need of on-ramp services” (p.23).

(Abstractor: Author and Website Staff)

Major Findings & Recommendations

“Through interviews, surveys, and research review, these critical service components – in a variety of flexible, customizable forms – appear key to on-ramps: I. Stabilization and Supportive Services – to diminish crisis for individuals and to connect individuals to resources and opportunities II. Integrated Education & Training – to build foundational, employment, and occupational skills contextually and simultaneously III. Employment, Retention, and Re-Engagement – to gain work experience, remain connected to work, and re-engage in further education and training On-ramps operate with all three of these components delivered with proportional balance and simultaneously, when possible. These services are not sequential or hierarchical but driven by person centered program design. It is also important to note that these services are delivered through cross-system partnership and not by one agency or set of binary partners. Many practitioners interviewed described the precarious nature of transitions as program participants exit one program and enter another. On-ramps should be designed with enough transition overlap between programs and services to lessen the chance a participant will fall away rather than move forward. This will require not only partnerships and new service models [but] also new strategies for funding and evaluating the work” (p.5). The authors also outline key system components in the areas of partners, funding, data, and risk-adjusted measures. Finally, they describe an exemplary program that “operationalize[s] the three components of a career pathway on-ramp” (p. 16). The authors conclude that “[o]n-ramps are not a body of work separate from the larger career pathway system design. An on-ramp must connect to a longer path, and simply building on-ramps without attention to the path people reach at the end will not have lasting impacts for the individual or for systemic change. Minnesota’s new reality – skilled employment needs within the context of an aging workforce being refreshed by a demographically diverse workforce that has been disproportionately impacted by educational and economic barriers – is complex. The solutions lie in partnerships and inter- and intra-agency alignment at the state and local level to build comprehensive interventions, dynamically sustain them through shared investment, and continuously improve them to meet the realities of individuals and economies” (p.17). (Abstractor: Author and Website Staff)