Career Paths for Entry-Level IT Workers
Findings from the Per Scholas WorkAdvance Program
The information technology (IT) industry is one of the largest and fastest-growing industries in the country and the median annual wage for jobs in the field is higher than the median annual wage for all jobs described by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Given the generally promising industry outlook, it is important to understand whether it offers employment opportunities that could improve the economic mobility of workers with low incomes. This paper highlights a program targeted at such a population: IT training offered by Per Scholas, a national nonprofit training and employment services provider, as part of the WorkAdvance initiative.
WorkAdvance is a sector-focused workforce development model that provides education and employment-related skills to adults looking to advance in the labor market. MDRC previously carried out an evaluation of WorkAdvance, which was funded by a 2010 federal Social Innovation Fund grant to the Mayor’s Fund to Advance New York City and the Mayor’s Office for Economic Opportunity (NYC Opportunity). An extended follow-up analysis of WorkAdvance was supported by funds provided by Robin Hood. Between 2011 and 2013, four providers, including Per Scholas, implemented the WorkAdvance model. Per Scholas’s WorkAdvance program was designed to prepare participants for entry-level IT jobs, including help desk technicians and IT field technician positions, helping them enter and advance in this career field.
As part of the evaluation of WorkAdvance, MDRC assessed the impact of WorkAdvance programs, including Per Scholas, using a randomized controlled trial. The evaluation found that the Per Scholas WorkAdvance program led to large earnings gains over a roughly six- to eight-year follow-up period. These experimental findings suggest that Per Scholas’s WorkAdvance program resulted in substantial job and career advancement.
This paper provides further insight into the Per Scholas WorkAdvance program by exploring the opportunities for advancement in two of the IT occupations targeted by the program. The paper describes potential advancement opportunities within the IT sector and documents the career advancement outcomes (as measured by earnings) of program participants. The paper was completed as part of the Building Evidence on Employment Strategies (BEES) project.
The discussion in this paper can help program providers and policymakers better discern whether IT training for entry-level workers is a worthwhile program area in which to invest. However, it is important to note that, unlike the experimental findings from the WorkAdvance evaluation, the participant outcomes discussed in this paper are descriptive and cannot be assumed to necessarily be the result of the Per Scholas WorkAdvance program.
Primary Research Questions
This paper discusses potential career paths within the IT sector and describes the outcomes and employment trajectories of individuals who started a training targeting entry-level IT jobs. The research questions are:
- What are the requirements and prospects for help desk technician and IT field technician jobs?
- What are the characteristics and outcomes for individuals who started a training program targeting entry-level IT jobs?
- What are the potential benefits of offering training to prepare individuals for help desk technician and IT field technician jobs?
The promising outlook for the IT field as a sector projected to add jobs makes it important to understand whether there are employment opportunities in IT that could improve the economic mobility of adults who are unemployed or looking for higher-wage jobs. Policymakers and practitioners looking to implement sector programs may learn from this descriptive analysis as they consider whether their programs should also target entry-level IT jobs.
Key Findings and Highlights
Findings from this analysis show:
- Most help desk technician and IT field technician jobs require some training beyond a high school diploma or GED, but not a college degree. These education requirements may make these jobs accessible to a wider pool of individuals than other jobs that require more education.
- Most participants completed Per Scholas’s WorkAdvance IT training and obtained an industry-recognized certification. These are necessary first steps to finding an IT job.
- However, some participants did not obtain IT jobs. A little over a third of participants who started Per Scholas’s WorkAdvance IT training did not obtain an IT job, including some participants who completed the training and obtained an industry-recognized certification.
- The IT sector offers many opportunities for advancement. Workers can follow many different career paths. Additional certifications are typically required to advance into higher-level jobs.
- Many participants who started Per Scholas’s WorkAdvance IT training increased their earnings over time. These earnings increases were due to participants transitioning from not working to working, working more consistently, or working jobs with more hours or higher earnings.
This paper draws on publicly available labor market data and information about IT career requirements and paths. It also uses several sources of data from the WorkAdvance evaluation, including a baseline survey, program tracking data, a two-year follow-up survey, unemployment insurance wage data provided by the New York State Department of Labor, and data from the National Directory of New Hires (a national database of wage and employment information overseen by the federal Office of Child Support Enforcement within the Administration for Children and Families). As noted above, all of the analyses in this paper are considered descriptive and do not represent the causal effects of Per Scholas’s WorkAdvance program.
 Bureau of Labor Statistics, Computer and Information Technology Occupations: Occupational Outlook Handbook (Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Labor, 2020).