Absence of conflict of interest.
Hendra, R., Greenberg, D. H., Hamilton, G., Oppenheim, A. Pennington, A. Schaberg, K., and Tessler, B. L. (2016). Encouraging evidence on a sector-focused advancement strategy. New York: MDRC. [Towards Employment]
- The study’s objective was to examine the impact of the WorkAdvance sectoral training program at the Towards Employment site on employment, earnings, education, and training from 2011 to 2015. The authors investigated similar research questions with three other sites, the profiles of which are available here.
- The study used a randomized controlled trial design to compare the treatment group, which was able to access the WorkAdvance program at the Towards Employment site, and the control group, which was not eligible for WorkAdvance services but could access other services in the community. The authors collected data from two sources: a follow-up survey and unemployment insurance (UI) wage and employment data.
- Using survey data, the authors found that those in the treatment group were significantly more likely to complete education or training compared with those in the control group. The authors found no statistically significant impacts of the program on employment or earnings from either the UI data or survey data.
- The quality of the causal evidence is high because it was based on a well-implemented randomized controlled trial. This means we are confident that the estimated effects are attributable to the WorkAdvance program at the Towards Employment site and not to other factors.
The WorkAdvance sectoral training program
Features of the Intervention
WorkAdvance was a sectoral training program that coupled a career readiness and occupational training program with job placement supports and post-employment job retention services. The training at the Towards Employment site in Cleveland, Ohio, occurred at private or technical schools and community colleges. The WorkAdvance program included 10 separate six-hour sessions on career readiness training, up to 17 weeks of occupational training toward an industry certificate, and career coaching. The training targeted the health care and manufacturing sectors.
To be eligible for the program, people had to be at least 18 years old, be legally allowed to work in the United States, have a family income of less than 200 percent of the federal poverty line, and either be unemployed or employed at a job making less than $15 per hour. In addition, people had to have math and reading scores at the 6th- to 10th-grade level or higher, pass a criminal background check (for the health care track only), and pass a drug screening.
Features of the Study
The study used a randomized controlled trial design, in which 703 people were assigned to either the treatment group (which was offered the WorkAdvance program) or a control group (which could not join the WorkAdvance program but could access other services available in the community). The sample was primarily female (59 percent) and African American (71 percent), with an average age of 35 years old. In all, 25 percent of the sample had previously been convicted of a crime.
The authors collected data from two sources: (1) a follow-up survey completed two years after random assignment by 562 members of the sample and (2) quarterly UI wage and employment data for nine quarters after random assignment from 698 members of the sample. The authors used a statistical model to compare the outcomes of treatment and control group members.
- The authors did not find any statistically significant impacts of the WorkAdvance program on employment using either the survey data or UI data.
Earnings and wages
- The authors did not find any statistically significant impacts of the WorkAdvance program on earnings using either the survey data or UI data.
Education and skills gains
- Using survey data from the second year after random assignment, the authors found that those assigned to the treatment group were significantly more likely to have obtained a degree or credential (26 percentage points), have completed a skills training program (31 percentage points), and have obtained a credential in the targeted sectors of health care and manufacturing (27 percentage points) compared with the control group. Using survey data, the authors found that the treatment group was also 26 percentage points more likely to have completed any education or training than the control group.
Considerations for Interpreting the Findings
In all, 59 percent of control group members received some form of employment service from community-based or governmental organizations, and 39 percent received skills training. If this training was similar in intensity and content to the WorkAdvance training, then there might not have been a clear difference between the treatment and control groups, making it more challenging to detect impacts of the WorkAdvance program.
The study took place during the Great Recession, so there could have been fewer employment opportunities available to the sample.
Causal Evidence Rating
The quality of the causal evidence is high because it was based on a well-implemented randomized controlled trial. This means we are confident that the estimated effects are attributable to the WorkAdvance program at the Towards Employment site and not to other factors.