Posted by Ryan Laychak, Self-Sufficiency Research Clearinghouse Staff
In a 2014 report, researchers suggested that in today’s economy, a sizeable skills gap exists between job seekers and available jobs. Assessing data in New York City, the authors found over 44,000 current openings in “middle-skill” jobs but about half of New Yorkers age 25 and older lacked the training or skills to fill them. Employers today struggle to find skilled workers especially in the healthcare and technology sectors.
Since 2012, the U.S. Departments of Education, Health and Human Services, and Labor have proposed that workforce, education and human service programs and systems serving low-skill workers offer aligned “Career Pathways” supports to help address this growing gap. They define a career pathways approach as one that offers “a series of connected education and training strategies and support services that enable individuals to secure industry relevant certification and obtain employment within an occupational area and to advance to higher levels of future education and employment in that area.” Simply put, the approach provides opportunities for individuals to gain credentials that lead to long-term career paths.
In recent years, there has been a growing practice and policy literature base discussing how to develop and implement career pathway programs. A 2014 report from CLASP in partnership with ten states that offer career pathway programs introduced a conceptual framework for implementing the approach. The report and accompanying materials identified several key aspects to a successful career pathways approach, including: quality education and training, consistent and non-duplicative assessments, supportive and employment services, and work experience. A 2013 literature review from the Office of Planning Research and Evaluation (OPRE) on career pathway initiatives further identified the below common elements across most existing programs:
- Training designed to overcome educational deficits and expedite the credential processes needed for sector-specific employment.
- Counseling, tutoring, and other supportive services to help participants during training.
- Employer engagement in program design and implementation.
- Collaboration with key stakeholders and service providers.
- Accessible training that fits into low-income participants’ life circumstances and schedules.
Research in the career pathways field is also growing. There are several impact studies of career pathways programs underway, with promising interim findings. The 2013 literature review from OPRE, assessing existing research at the time, noted that in-process studies suggest that career pathway programs can produce positive outcomes for low-income populations and similar programs can increase employment and earnings opportunities. Initial or interim reports since on the WorkAdvance, Pathways for Advancing Careers and Education (PACE) and Health Profession Opportunity Grants (HPOG) career pathways programs similarly found positive enrollment and completion rates for occupational skills training programs and high program engagement among participants.
The SSRC and the OFA PeerTA Libraries contains numerous evaluation reports and stakeholder resources on career pathways literature, including:
- Career pathways: Catalog of toolkits. This online directory of free resources created by the Administration for Children and Families, Office of Family Assistance maintains an up-to-date listing of toolkits to help programs develop Career Pathways initiatives.
- Closing the skills gap: Preparing New Yorkers for high-growth, high-demand, middle-skill jobs. This 2014 report by J.P. Morgan Chase highlights the challenges and opportunities for addressing skills gaps in New York City, particularly in the healthcare and technology sectors.
- Literature review: Career Pathways programs. This 2013 review identifies and analyzes research studies on career pathways program design, implementation, outcomes and impacts. It also summarizes the implications for those findings for Health Profession Opportunity Grants (HPOG) National Implementation Evaluation design.
- Engaging employers to support adult career pathways programs. This 2013 brief discusses how employer engagement in Adult Career Pathways (ACP) programs can strengthen the efforts of adult educators to help learners attain secondary credentials, transition to postsecondary programs, achieve industry credentials, and secure family-sustaining employment.
- Descriptive implementation and outcome study report: National implementation evaluation of the Health Profession Opportunity Grants (HPOG) to serve TANF recipients and other low-income individuals. This 2015 report on the HPOG implementation and outcome studies shared findings on healthcare career pathway program enrollment and completion rates.
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