How to Build Bridge Programs that Fit into a Career Pathway: A Step-by-Step Guide Based on the Carreras en Salud Program in Chicago

This manual is useful to anyone interested in the challenge of tapping into the reservoir of talent represented by low-skill adults.

R. Estrada
T. DuBois
Author(s) Organizational Affiliation
Instituto del Progreso Latino
Publication Year
Resource Type
Instructional Material
Number of Pages
Product Type

This manual, using the career pathway program—Carreras en Salud (Health Careers)— as an example, provides information on components, considerations, and how-to information to develop a bridge career for ABE and adult ESL students.  The manual covers the following topics:

  • career pathway and bridges development;
  • partnership identification and relationships;
  • essential elements;
  • contextualized instruction;
  • methodology and teaching strategies;
  • logistics;
  • budget;
  • program expansion.

The authors provide helpful graphics and relevant examples in each section.  Furthermore, they draw on research and expertise from the field and their own experiences to provide a comprehensive look at the elements of a contextualized career program.

Required Training


What the experts say

The trend toward collaborative workplace initiatives and sectoral programs continues to interest grant funding agencies and organizations involved in worker training.  If you are an organization interested in pursuing such a program, particularly a program for immigrants and refugees, you will find this resource useful as it lays out, in detail, the necessary steps involved in implementing such a program.

This manual presents a how-to guide on bridge programs leading to specific careers.  This resource relates specifically to a healthcare program developed for Latinos in Chicago, with specific partners and resources; however, this guide documents a process that can be replicated with other ABE or ESL populations and adapted to various vocational and technical career paths.

This guide is intended for adult education administrators and program developers, although instructors could also benefit from seeing the “big picture.”  The model the author describes in great detail is now increasingly popular with the U.S. Office of Adult Vocational and Technical Education (OVAE), which is investing heavily in transition to post-secondary education programs or training for occupations with family sustaining wages.

The section on partnerships is particularly interesting, showing the roles and responsibilities of the various organizations (listed in several figures).  The guide emphasizes shared fiscal responsibility as well as credit given in the press for the program.  It shows how the partners manage multiple funding sources with each serving as fiscal agent depending on the type of grant.  Sample memos of understanding are provided in Appendix A.

Assessments should also change from standardized testing to project- or problem-based assessments.  Unfortunately comprehension is not shown at all (Figure 13) until the advanced academic level (GE 10-12.9).

A small disappointment was some of the specific academic suggestions.  For example, on p. 24, the authors divide curriculum into general contextmacro context and micro context (a very useful concept).  However, the sample lesson plan is like a lot of older vocational curriculum, based on behaviorism, with goals and objectives and is disappointingly grammar based.  Furthermore, some of the generalizations made about “traditional teachers” and computer use are not backed by any recent research.

Highlights of this resource:

  • The resource offers an excellent step-by-step guide to developing “bridge programs” in which educational programming is related to career tracks using the healthcare sector as a sample. 
  • The concept of an educational or academic ladder to accompany a career ladder is not unique, but the idea of a corresponding social ladder is interesting.  Social competencies as well as academic and technical competencies are listed in Figure 8 for each entry point on the healthcare ladder.
  • The resource discusses how instruction should move from pedagogy to andragogy as students progress in their basic skills development.
  • The manual provides good descriptions and definitions of how bridge programs for non-traditional students work. 
  • The focus on contextualized learning and integrating vocational and academic content is very helpful. 

Things to note:

  • The ESL skill level and competences is outdated.
  • The program functions because it is selective.
  • Administrators may also be deterred by the cost; the model is very comprehensive (e.g., providing counseling and other support for the participants and requiring adult educators to team-teach with the vocational/technical experts). This model also requires that curriculum must be constantly upgraded to keep up with vocational change.  However, these are components of best practice and been shown to be effective.  
  • Although the resource stresses the importance of data and evaluation in attracting funding, details on how to conduct program evaluation are not provided. 

Further Resources Suggested by Reviewers: (Note: This resource has not been reviewed by LINCS experts.)

Below is a new research study just published by Public/Private Ventures (cited below), which followed immigrants enrolled in two different sectoral employment programs. The programs had different proficiency requirements and varied amounts of participant support.  While both groups saw some improvement in their employment situation, participants who started with a higher levels of English and education, and received more support throughout the program, fared much better. A review of this additional resource may help people to choose a model that best fits their organization’s and clients’ needs

Maguire, S., Freely, J., Clymer, C., Conway, M., & Schwartz, D. (2010). Tuning In to local labor markets: Findings from the sectoral employment impact study. Philadelphia, PA: Public/Private Ventures.

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