Sector-based workforce initiatives offer industry-focused education and job training based on the needs of regional employers within specific industry sectors. Such initiatives identify common skills within the sector, work with local training providers such as community colleges to create standardized training curriculums, and train workers for job opportunities with high quality benefits, advancement opportunities, and higher wages. Initiatives provide training at multiple skill levels and may leverage career pathways and bridge programs to provide opportunities for worker advancement. Sector-based workforce initiatives are generally driven by employer needs but implemented by workforce intermediaries such as nonprofit agencies or workforce development boards who coordinate partnerships between education and training providers, businesses, community organizations, and state agencies1.
Expected Beneficial Outcomes (Rated)
Other Potential Beneficial Outcomes
Increased academic achievement
Evidence of Effectiveness
Participation in sector-based workforce initiatives can increase employment and earnings more than traditional workforce development programs for low income adults, disadvantaged workers5, 9, and the long-term unemployed6. Participation can also increase earnings for urban young adults aged 18 to 24 who have high school diplomas or GEDs2, 7. In some cases, program effects persist up to 7.5 years after enrollment10. For example, an evaluation of Project Quest indicates participants increase earnings progressively over time, earning $5,080 more than similar peers six years after study enrollment3; Capital IDEA participants increased earnings and employment gains over 4 years after training8.
Gains in earnings appear to be greater for participants in the health care industry than participants in manufacturing or transportation-focused programs; gains may also be less for participants who are at the greatest disadvantage5. Gains in earnings and employment vary by approach and provider6, 9. Economic conditions may also affect earnings4. Difficulty developing necessary partnerships, lack of basic skills among some participants, and a dynamic labor market that may eliminate occupations can be challenges to establishing programs11. Attempts to replicate previously successful programs may not be successful12.
Participation in sector-based workforce initiatives can increase vocational credential receipt13, particularly for the participants who were over 25 and had a GED at program start3 or those with other barriers to employment, such as criminal convictions6.
Successful sector-based workforce initiatives include collaboration with agencies, industry, and employers; alignment with strategies such as career pathways; work credentialing; provision of incentive and planning funds; and leveraging diverse funding sources14. Successful initiatives generally serve low income workers with strong basic skills, rather than hard-to-employ adults15.
Costs vary widely. WorkAdvance demonstration site costs range from $5,200 to $6,700 per participant, for example6. The Year Up program, an intensive sector-based workforce initiative, spends around $28,000 per participant, partially offset by payments from corporate partners who employ Year Up interns2.
Potential to decrease disparities: Supported by some evidence
There is some evidence that sector-based workforce initiatives have the potential to decrease disparities in employment and earnings among participating adults with lower incomes5, 6, 9. Often times, low-skill workers do not have an opportunity to gain skills and experience to progress to higher paying jobs; Sector-based workforce initiatives provide industry specific training and career-development programs to help those workers gain skills and establish professional networks5. In some cases, program effects on employment and earnings persist up to seven and a half years after enrollment10.
Over the last several decades, low-wage workers have faced challenges including stagnant wages, limited opportunities to expand their skills, and few chances for promotion and advancement in their field19. Globalization and technological advancements have disrupted labor markets, replacing stable jobs with more precarious employment (Upjohn-Van Horn 2015). The concurrent decline of labor unions and jobs in manufacturing have driven down real wages and shifted many workers into lower paying industries (Pew-DeSilver 2018). At the same time large companies now use more contracted and limited term employees, limiting employer investment in workers’ training and education20.
Sector-based workforce initiatives are part of broader workforce development strategies, which have evolved since they first appeared in The New Deal legislation in 193321. In 1998, under the Workforce Investment Act, the federal approach to workforce development was completely overhauled22 and sector-based initiatives began to emerge to specifically help low-income workers with strong basic skills15, 22. Sector-based initiatives are region and sector specific, allowing programs to address the needs of local economies21, 22.
- How can your sector-based workforce initiative be more culturally competent?
- What strategies can sector-based workforce initiatives implement to recruit and retain workers from disadvantaged backgrounds?
- What additional support or resources can your workforce initiatives provide participants to ensure completion?
- How can sector-based workforce programs partner with community and economic development organizations to meet current and future workforce needs?
- What underlying conditions contribute to training and skill gaps in your community? What other strategies can be implemented to address those underlying conditions?
The 2014 reauthorization of the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) requires expansion of sector partnerships in workforce programs. As of 2014, 21 states have state-level sector partnership policies that authorize state support for local sector partnerships. Another 20 states have targeted industry sector activities at the state level14.
Per Scholas is an example of a well-established initiative that provides information technology training to underrepresented populations in eight cities across the country16. Project QUEST in San Antonio, Texas trains participants for jobs in health care, information technology, and installation and maintenance and has been replicated by organizations in the United States and the United Kingdom17. Year Up serves low income young adults with high school diplomas or GEDs and provides professional training in IT, financial operations, sales and customer support, business operations, or software development; a corporate internship; and a weekly stipend18.
Mathematica-Joyce 2015 - Joyce K, Derr M, Mastri A, et al. Resources for connecting TANF recipients and other low-income families to good jobs. Washington, DC: Mathematica Policy Research (MPR); 2015.
JFF-Initiatives - Jobs for the Future (JFF). Initiatives.
King 2016 - King CT, Juniper CJ, Coffey R, Smith TC. Promoting two-generation strategies: A getting-started guide for state and local policymakers (revised and updated). Austin, TX: Ray Marshall Center, University of Texas-Austin; 2016.
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1 Mathematica-Joyce 2015 - Joyce K, Derr M, Mastri A, et al. Resources for connecting TANF recipients and other low-income families to good jobs. Washington, DC: Mathematica Policy Research (MPR); 2015.
2 OPRE-Fein 2018 - Fein D, Hamadyk J. Bridging the opportunity divide for low-income youth: Implementation and early impacts of the Year Up program. Washington, DC: Office of Planning, Research, and Evaluation, Administration for Children and Families, US Department of Health and Human Services. 2018;1-120.
3 EMC-Roder 2018 - Roder A, Elliott M. Escalating gains: The elements of Project QUEST’s success. Economic Mobility Corporation. 2018:1-58.
4 MDRC-Schaberg 2017 - Kelsey S. Can sector strategies promote longer-term effects? Manpower Demonstration Research Corporation (MDRC). 2017:1-15.
5 Gasper 2017* - Gasper JM, Henderson KA, Berman DS. Do sectoral employment programs work? New evidence from New York City’s sector-focused career centers. Industrial Relations: A Journal of Economy and Society. 2017;56(1):40-72.
6 MDRC-Hendra 2016 - Hendra R, Greenberg DH, Hamilton G, et al. Encouraging evidence on a sector-focused advancement strategy: A preview summary of two-year impacts from the WorkAdvance demonstration. New York: Manpower Demonstration Research Corporation (MDRC); 2016.
7 EMC-Roder 2014 - Roder A, Elliott M. Sustained gains: Year Up’s continued impact on young adults’ earnings. Economic Mobility Corporation. 2014:1-27.
8 Smith 2012 - Smith T, King C, Schroeder D. Local investments in workforce development: 2012 evaluation update. Ray Marshall Center for the Study of Human Resources, Lyndon B Johnson School of Public Affairs, The University of Texas at Austin. 2012:1-32.
9 PPV-Maguire 2010 - Maguire S, Freely J, Clymer C, Conway M, Schwartz D. Tuning in to local labor markets: Findings from the sectoral employment impact study. Philadelphia: Public/Private Ventures (PPV); 2010.
10 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 US workforce development policies for the 21st century. Kalamazoo, Michigan: W.E. Upjohn Institute for Employment Research. 2015:195-230.
11 Brookings-Holzer 2015 - Holzer HJ. Higher education and workforce policy: Creating more skilled workers (and jobs for them to fill). Washington, DC: The Brookings Institution; 2015.
12 MDRC-Miller 2005 - Miller C, Bos JM, Porter KE, et al. The challenge of repeating success in a changing world. New York: Manpower Demonstration Research Corporation (MDRC). 2005:1-200.
13 Chase-Lansdale 2017 - Chase-Lansdale LP, Sommer TE, Sabol TJ, et al. What are the effects of pairing head start services for children with career pathway training for parents? Community Action Project of Tulsa County. 2017:1-8.
14 King 2016 - King CT, Juniper CJ, Coffey R, Smith TC. Promoting two-generation strategies: A getting-started guide for state and local policymakers (revised and updated). Austin, TX: Ray Marshall Center, University of Texas-Austin; 2016.
15 Holzer 2017* - Holzer HJ. The role of skills and jobs in transforming communities. Cityscape: A Journal of Policy Development and Research. 2017;19(1):171-191.
16 Per Scholas - Per Scholas. Technology at work.
17 Project Quest - Quality employment through skills training. Project Quest.
18 Year Up - Year Up. Learn new skills to launch your career. Boston, MA.
19 Aspen-Conway 2004 - Conway M, Dworak-Muñoz L, Blair A. Sectoral workforce development: Research review and future directions. A meeting proceedings report. Washington, DC: Workforce Strategies Initiative (WSI), Aspen Institute; 2004.
20 Upjohn-Van Horn 2015 - Van Horn C, Edwards T, Greene T eds. Transforming US workforce development policies for the 21st century. Kalamazoo, Michigan: W.E. Upjohn Institute for Employment Research; 2015.
21 PWDA-History of Workforce - PA Workforce Development Association (PWDA). History of workforce development.
22 Prince 2017 - Prince H, King C, Oldmixon S. Promoting the adoption of sector strategies by workforce development boards under the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act. Austin: Ray Marshall Center for the Study of Human Resources, Lyndon B Johnson School of Public Affairs, The University of Texas at Austin; 2017.
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