The H-1B visa program, established in 1990 by Congress, allows employers to hire individuals from outside the United States 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 more than $1 billion in technical skills training programs managed by the U.S. Department of Labor (U.S. DOL) and designed to reduce or replace the need for importing skilled labor from other countries.
Two grant programs funded through this authority and administered by the U.S. DOL, launched in 2015 by President Barack Obama, are H-1B TechHire Partnership Grants (TechHire) and the Strengthening Working Families Initiative (SWFI). These grant programs were designed to provide funding, through a competitive application process, for programs that would make training more accessible to individuals who might otherwise experience barriers to training and employment; provide support services that address the unique and varied challenges facing these individuals; and offer a range of training strategies, including accelerated training and online options, to address skills deficits. These local programs were expected to prepare disadvantaged individuals for “well-paying middle- and high-skilled jobs in high-growth H-1B industries.” Additionally, SWFI program grantees were expected to undertake activities with key stakeholders across the child care, workforce, and human services systems to streamline access to child care for disadvantaged workers.
The opportunity to develop such programs and apply for TechHire and SWFI grants was open to partnerships consisting of workforce agencies, education and training providers, and business-related nonprofit organizations. In June 2016, the U.S. DOL Employment and Training Administration awarded 39 TechHire grants providing services in 25 states and 14 SWFI grants providing services in 13 states. Programs were expected to operate for four years, roughly from June 2016 to June 2020.
In September 2016, the U.S. DOL Chief Evaluation Office awarded Westat, with MDRC, a contract to conduct an evaluation of the 53 TechHire and SWFI programs (the Westat/MDRC team is referred to in this report as the “evaluation team”). The evaluation comprises an outcomes and implementation study conducted by Westat of all 53 TechHire and SWFI programs, making use of surveys and interviews with program directors and key partners, as well as a randomized controlled trial (RCT) conducted by MDRC of a small subset of the programs—three TechHire programs and two SWFI programs. The RCT officially launched in the first program in April 2018 and in all five programs by September 2018, about two years after the programs received their TechHire and SWFI grant awards and began operating.
The RCT is assessing the extent to which TechHire and SWFI’s combination of training, case management, and support services helped people increase their employment and earnings over and above what they would have achieved in the absence of these programs. It is also looking at whether these programs led people to obtain the kinds of middle- to high-skilled jobs that the grant programs intended and to receive more support—including child care—than those who were not in the programs. The results of this evaluation, including the study of all 53 programs and the smaller RCT of five of the programs, were intended to help federal, state, and local policymakers learn whether the combinations of job training approaches, case management, and support services offered across the programs helped disadvantaged people secure employment in high-demand sectors and increase their earnings.
This report focuses on the implementation and short-term impacts of TechHire and SWFI—capturing between 7 and 14 months of follow-up—in the five programs that participated in the RCT.