Reflecting on WIOA: How Do We Know Sector-Focused Strategies And Career Pathways Help Workers Connect To Jobs?

The newly passed Workforce Innovation Opportunities Act contains provisions that will encourage states and local workforce systems to adopt and expand the use of programs focused on specific employment sectors and career pathways. The legislation also will encourage "bridge" programs that provide training and support services to help lower-skilled workers prepare for and land jobs.

Such efforts -- often referred to as sector strategies -- are reshaping the workforce field, as documented in the recently published Connecting People to Work: Workforce Intermediaries and Sector Strategies.

While evidence on the effectiveness of sector and related strategies is still emerging, it is clear from rigorous evaluation studies that these strategies are highly efficient and effective at increasing the receipt of necessary services and the employability, employment, earnings and other outcomes of jobseekers. They also yield lasting net benefits for taxpayers and society as a whole.

As summarized in the chapter I wrote for the book, we have evidence of the positive impact that sector strategies have in connecting people to jobs from several rigorous evaluations.

Sectoral-focused and related programs have been associated with notably high rates of service participation as well as program completion and credential attainment.

Participation in education and training services was fully 32 points higher for participants -- compared to a control group -- in three sectoral programs in Wisconsin, Boston and New York City that were studied by Public/Private Ventures and the Aspen Institute.

Youth participating in the Comprehensive Employment Training Replication, a sectoral career pathway program for youth, received 145 more hours of training and earned credentials at a rate of 21 points above that for controls, according to a study by MDRC.

Participants in Washington state's I-BEST bridge program experienced a 17 point increase in service receipt, a 10 point increase in college credits earned, and a 7.5 point increase in occupational certifications earned three years after enrollment, according to a quasi-experimental evaluation carried out by researchers with the Community College Research Center at Columbia University's Teachers College. However, participants did not earn associate's degrees at an increased rate.

One less encouraging finding was that participants in Year Up, a multi-site career pathway, sectoral and bridge program for youth and young adults, were actually 13 points less likely to have attended college in four years following random assignment than controls, according to an experimental evaluation done by Economic Mobility.

In terms of employment, with the exception of Year Up and I-BEST, participation has been associated with statistically significant increases in employment extending from two to seven and a half years post-program. Even in programs that did not boost overall employment rates, program participation led to increased employment in the targeted industry sectors, typically in much better jobs.

Participants in the Wisconsin Regional Training Partnership earned 24 percent more than controls over the two-year study period, largely from working more hours and earning higher wages; participants were much more likely to work in jobs paying $11 and $13 per hour than were controls. Participation in Per Scholas in New York City and Jewish Vocational Services in Boston produced similar results.

Participation in Austin's Capital IDEA program led to substantial (12 to 13 percent) earnings increases over nearly eight years post-program and also increased participants' eligibility for Unemployment Insurance by 11 to 12 percentage points, an important safety-net component for lower-income workers, according to a quasi-experimental evaluation by researchers at the University of Texas at Austin's Ray Marshall Center.

And Year Up participants' earnings exceeded those of controls by 32 percent three years after the program, largely as a result of trainees working in jobs that were full rather than part-time and paying higher wages (some $2.51 per hour more).

These sector programs are also proving to be wise investments for taxpayers.

The Ray Marshall Center's evaluation estimated that Capital IDEA participation generated rates of return of nine percent per year for taxpayers and 39 percent for society over 10 years -- with returns being measured by such things as increased earnings and taxes paid and reduced costs from social service programs. Over 20 years, returns were estimated to be 17 percent for taxpayers and 43 percent for society. Not surprisingly, returns for individual participants were much higher, at 73 percent over 10 years.

In short, evidence is making it clear that these sector approaches to workforce development are well worth pursuing, and the workforce training field should be learning from the results.

Connecting People to Work: Workforce Intermediaries and Sector Strategies edited by Maureen Conway, Vice President, Aspen Institute, and Robert P. Giloth, Vice President, Annie E. Casey Foundation, is available in soft cover and Kindle version from Amazon. Engage with this work using #connect2work.