Sector-based workforce initiatives

Evidence Rating  
Some Evidence
Evidence rating: Some Evidence

Strategies with this rating are likely to work, but further research is needed to confirm effects. These strategies have been tested more than once and results trend positive overall.

Health Factors  

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)

  • Increased employment

  • Increased earnings

Other Potential Beneficial Outcomes

  • Increased academic achievement

Evidence of Effectiveness

There is some evidence that sector-based workforce initiatives increase employment and earnings2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9. However, additional evidence is needed to confirm effects.

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.

Impact on Disparities

Likely to decrease disparities

Implementation Examples

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.

Implementation Resources

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, Associates A, et al. 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, NY: 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 U.S. 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. 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 - Technology at work. Per Scholas.

17 Project Quest - Quality employment through skills training. Project Quest.

18 Year Up - Year Up.

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