The TechHire and Strengthening Working Families Initiative Evaluation


The H-1B visa program, established in 1990 by Congress, allows employers to hire foreigners to work in “specialty occupations” (such as science, technology, engineering, mathematics, health care, business, financial services, or life sciences) on a temporary basis. In 1998, a user fee was added to fund scholarship and training programs that develop the skills of the existing U.S. workforce in high-demand fields that employ large numbers of H-1B workers. Those fees have underwritten over $1 billion of U.S. Department of Labor-managed technical skills training programs designed to reduce or replace the need for foreign skilled labor.

Two recent programs funded through this authority are H-1B TechHire Partnership Grants and the Strengthening Working Families Initiative (SWFI). These programs, paid for through grants to specific localities, are designed to provide supportive services that address the unique and varied challenges facing people who have barriers to employment while at the same time offering a range of training strategies to address their skills deficits. The goal is to prepare individuals for middle- and high-skill jobs in high-growth H-1B industries. TechHire gives young adults and special populations accelerated and specialized skills training. SWFI provides flexible training for jobs in H-1B growth industries and provides parents with access to affordable, quality child care. These programs aim to make training more accessible and shorter, and to connect disadvantaged populations to high-growth sectors of the labor market.

In September 2016, the U.S. Department of Labor, Chief Evaluation Office, awarded Westat (which is leading the study) and MDRC a contract to conduct an evaluation of the TechHire and SWFI programs. The evaluation comprises a quasi-experimental study and an implementation study of the 53 TechHire and SWFI grantees. A subset of the grantees will also participate in a randomized controlled trial led by MDRC. The evaluation will assess the extent to which TechHire and SWFI training and support services help people obtain employment in middle- to high-skill jobs. The evaluation results will help federal, state, and local policymakers learn what job-training approaches and support services might best help people secure employment in high-demand sectors and increase their earnings.

Agenda, Scope, and Goals

The TechHire and Strengthening Working Families Initiative (TH/SWFI) grant programs emphasize short-term, accelerated training responsive to the demands of the labor market and aimed at preparing young adults and parents for middle-skill jobs in high-growth industries. Across 53 grantees, a variety of technical skills training approaches are being pilot tested. Some of the common components are:

  • Preemployment services, including training in soft skills (the general habits and competencies that make for an effective employee) tailored to the contexts of particular job sectors, as well as individual career-plan development

  • Accelerated or flexible occupation-specific skills training in programs that offer certifications valued by local employers in the targeted sector of the labor market

  • Supportive services to address individual barriers to employment, which could include assistance with transportation, clothing, and child care, along with coverage of educational expenses such as tools, books, and license exams

  • Job development and placement, a twofold effort: (1) identifying specific employers and their current and future labor-force needs and job openings; and (2) identifying and screening potential individuals to fill those jobs, taking into account those soon to complete their training, those who already have the necessary credentials, and those who have been placed in gateway jobs or work-based learning activities (for example, paid internships, apprenticeships, or on-the-job training) that may lead to training and advancement

  • Retention and advancement assistance, which may include continued contact and coaching, further skills training, and assistance with rapidly finding new employment, if a job is lost

The TH/SWFI evaluation will look to address the following research questions:

  • What challenges did programs face in implementation, and how were those challenges overcome?

  • What strategies and approaches are promising for addressing systematic barriers individuals may face in gaining access to or completing training and education programs, and in gaining employment in H-1B industries?

  • How did the customized supportive services and education/training tracks improve training completion rates, connect participants to employment opportunities in the fields in which they trained, and promote innovative and sustainable program designs and support systems?

  • To what extent did the TH/SWFI programs improve individuals’ enrollment in and completion of training, their skills and credentials, their employment and earnings, their advancement and job quality, or their secondary outcomes such as overall well-being, health, and housing status? Did the programs work better for some subgroups of individuals than others? Did some program approaches work better than others?

  • For SWFI grantees, how were child care systems and partnerships built and maintained? What challenges did programs face in building partnerships and systems, and how were those challenges overcome? How and to what extent did the programs address both participants’ child care needs and their individual job-training needs?

Design, Sites, and Data Sources

The TechHire and Strengthening Working Families Initiative (TH/SWFI) evaluation includes three major components: an implementation study, a randomized controlled trial, and a quasi-experimental study. The research team will use a mixed-methods approach for the implementation evaluation and a two-part randomized controlled trial and quasi-experimental study for the impact evaluation.

  • Implementation study. One part of the implementation study will include all 53 TH/SWFI grantees and will provide a thorough description of all of the TH/SWFI programs; document factors hindering and facilitating implementation; describe partnerships and systems change; and provide descriptive data on program outcomes. Another aspect of the implementation study will focus on the programs involved in the randomized controlled trial in more depth, to document the implementation of the experiment and describe how the services received by individuals eligible for the TechHire and SWFI programs differ from the services that control group members receive. This comparison will provide essential context to the impact findings.

  • Randomized controlled trial. The evaluation will use an experimental design to assess the impact of TH/SWFI for a subset of grantees. In each grantee locality, individuals will be randomly assigned to a program group, which will be allowed to enroll in TH/SWFI and receive training and related services, or to a control group, which will have access to other services normally available in the community. By comparing the training receipt, employment, earnings, and other outcomes of the two groups over time, the evaluation team will measure the extent to which the TH/SWFI services help participants and determine whom they help most.

  • Quasi-experimental study. The purpose of the quasi-experimental study is to reveal how program impacts vary in relation to measures of program implementation and participants’ characteristics. The quasi-experimental study bridges the randomized controlled trial and the implementation studies and will illuminate which strategies used in TH/SWFI programs are the most promising.