Meeting the Needs of Workers and Employers

Implementation of a Sector-Focused Career Advancement Model for Low-Skilled Adults

| Betsy L. Tessler, Michael Bangser, Alexandra Pennington, Kelsey Schaberg, Hannah Dalporto

The WorkAdvance program model integrates the most promising features of two especially important areas of workforce policy: “sectoral” strategies, which seek to meet the needs of both workers and employers by preparing individuals for quality jobs in specific high-demand industries or occupational clusters, and job retention and career advancement strategies, which seek to improve workers’ prospects for sustained employment and upward mobility. Specifically, the WorkAdvance model offers the following sequence of sector-focused program components to participants for up to two years after enrollment: preemployment and career readiness services, occupational skills training, job development and placement, and postemployment retention and advancement services. WorkAdvance programs are currently operated by four organizations (two in New York City, one in Tulsa, and one in Greater Cleveland) that focus on a variety of sectors and bring different types of experience and approaches to the implementation of WorkAdvance.

This first report presents early findings on how the four local program providers translated the WorkAdvance model into a workable program. It offers lessons that may be helpful to organizations seeking to implement a sector-focused career advancement program like WorkAdvance.

The WorkAdvance program operations and evaluation are funded through the federal Social Innovation Fund (SIF), a public-private partnership administered by the Corporation for National and Community Service. This SIF project is led by the Mayor’s Fund to Advance New York City and the NYC Center for Economic Opportunity (CEO) in collaboration with MDRC.

Key Findings

  • The WorkAdvance model is demanding, requiring providers to work effectively with both employers and program participants and to incorporate a postemployment advancement component that was new to all of the providers. Yet all four providers are now delivering each of the WorkAdvance components, with postemployment services being the least developed.
  • Screening for program entry was driven by employer needs; as a result, on average, only one in five applicants were eligible and qualified for the program.
  • The “soft skills” taught in career readiness classes appear to have been as important to participants and employers as the technical skills acquired from occupational skills training.
  • Early indications are that completion rates for occupational skills training are high, although they vary somewhat across the providers. In most cases, completion of the training led to the earning of an industry-recognized credential, which is a critical first step toward getting a job in the sector.

Support from the Social Innovation Fund for WorkAdvance program operations will continue through June 2015. MDRC’s second report, in late 2015, will examine WorkAdvance implementation in more depth and will present findings on program costs as well as impacts on employment, earnings, and other outcomes of the program.