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MDRC Releases WorkAdvance Report on Sector-Focused Career Advancement for Low-Skilled Adults

Posted on 01/05/2015


Current data, including that found in the Organisation for Economic Co-Operation and Development's (OECD) report, Time for the U.S. to Reskill? What the Survey of Adult Skills Says External link opens in new window or tab, shows that many low-skilled adults across the nation experience difficulty securing family-sustaining employment and career advancement. Concurrently, many employers are reporting that they have experienced challenges in finding skilled employees, even during times of high unemployment. Tackling both employer and worker needs are key priorities for public workforce systems and development organizations. To that end, the MDRC External link opens in new window or tab recently released its first WorkAdvance report, Meeting the Needs of Workers and Employers: Implementation of a Sector-Focused Career Advancement Model for Low-Skilled Adults External link opens in new window or tab, which, in its early findings, provides insight on this critical issue. Entities providing and coordinating services for adult learners may benefit from reviewing this report.

According to MDRC, the WorkAdvance program model integrates the most salient features of two critical 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." The model, according to the report, offers sequenced, sector-focused program components for up to two years following enrollment. These include "preemployment and career readiness services, occupational skills training, job development and placement, and postemployment retention and advancement services." The report notes that four organizations (two in New York City, one in Tulsa, Okla., and one in greater Cleveland) are presently operating WorkAdvance programs centering on a variety of sectors and types of experience and approaches.

This report contains early results from the four local program providers on their individual renderings of the model into effective programs. It includes lessons that may be useful to organizations that are interested in implementing sector-focused career advancement programs comparable to WorkAdvance.  It also offers lessons and insights for practitioners and workforce development professionals on best practices and implementation challenges for a program similar to WorkAdvance.

Key report findings (See full report External link opens in new window or tab for complete details.):

  • The model is challenging—it requires that providers work effectively with both employers and program participants and incorporate a new postemployment advancement component. "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 and, on average, only one in five applicants were qualified for the program.
  • "Soft" (essential) skills, taught in career-readiness classes, emerged as being of similar importance to participants and employers as the technical skills acquired in occupational skills training.
  • Early indications indicate that completion rates for occupational skills training are high, with variance across the providers. In most instances, completion of the training led to industry-recognized credentials for trainees—a critical first step toward attaining sector-based jobs.

MDRC plans to release a second report in late 2015. It will provide an in-depth look at the WorkAdvance implementation, as well as findings on program costs, impacts on employment, earnings, and other outcomes. Collectively, these two reports will give policymakers, practitioners, and funders valuable information "on the feasibility, impact, and cost of expanding and replicating a model of this type for low-income populations in various local contexts."

WorkAdvance program operations and evaluations are funded through the federal Social Innovation Fund External link opens in new window or tab (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 External link opens in new window or tab, and the NYC Center for Economic Opportunity External link opens in new window or tab, in collaboration with MDRC. For more detailed information, please read the report's executive summary.

Source: OCTAE Connection External link opens in new window or tab, December 16, 2014, U.S. Department of Education, Office of Career, Technical and Adult Education.