Over the past decade, the workforce development field has increasingly adopted sector strategies as a way to meet the needs of both job seekers and employers. Sector strategies train job seekers for high-quality employment in specific industries and occupational clusters that demonstrate strong local demand and the opportunity for career advancement. Programs using this strategy go beyond more traditional programs that offer training in a specific sector. Sector programs also have strong employer relationships, seek to improve the economic mobility of low-income individuals, and provide supports to help participants complete the program.
A few community-based organizations pioneered the sectoral approach in the late 1980s. Interest in the approach grew following the 2010 release of findings from the Sectoral Employment Impact Study (SEIS), which reported earnings gains over a two-year follow-up period for three mature sector programs. Since the release of those findings, sector programs have proliferated across the country and sector strategies were a key component of the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act passed in 2014. Workforce development initiatives that use sector strategies to produce more skilled and employable workers have benefited from continued federal interest and investment. The evidence base has also grown substantially in the past few years, as several rigorous studies of sector programs, including the ones discussed in this brief, have released findings on the effectiveness of the approach. Although many of these evaluations have found promising evidence, the effects have not been large or consistent across all programs.
This brief summarizes what is currently known about the sectoral approach and its effects on education and labor market outcomes, drawing on findings from seven rigorous evaluations of programs with a sector focus. It also highlights gaps in the evidence base and suggests potential areas for future research.