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Sectoral Training/Career Pathway Programs

Training outside of the workplace that nonetheless targets jobs in a particular growing or high-wage sector, with the active involvement of particular employers, is known as “sectoral training.” Workforce intermediaries bring together employers in that sector, training providers (either community colleges or others) and workers. The intermediaries help provide the workers with access to needed supports and services, including transportation and childcare. The intermediaries also work with providers and employers to make sure that the training fits the employers' needs. If successful, employers come to trust the intermediaries over time to screen workers and refer only those with strong skills and work habits.

Rigorous evaluations (Maguire et al. 2010; Roder and Elliott 2011) have shown that sectoral programs can generate large impacts on the earnings of adults and youth—of 30% or more—within 2 years of the onset of training. But the training generally works only for disadvantaged workers with quite strong basic skills and job readiness rather than the “hard to employ.” Questions also remain about the extent to which impacts survive over time, particularly after workers leave their current jobs and maybe even that sector of employment.

Many states have begun efforts to scale up “sectoral” models by creating partnerships between community colleges and employers or industry associations (National Governors Association 2014). Efforts in many cities and substate regions of the country have been undertaken as well (National Fund for Workforce Solutions 2014). [1] The Obama administration has also embraced “demand driven” or “job driven” training as ways to meet the needs of the long-term unemployed and other disadvantaged workers. [2]

But little data exists to date measuring the outcomes achieved, in terms of numbers of workers trained or employed in these broader efforts, much less what the impacts are on worker earnings. Tensions can sometimes exist between the time it takes to build local or state “partnerships” between employers, intermediaries, and service providers, on the one hand, and the often-changing skill needs of employers and workers in a dynamic labor market on the other. Making sure that these models are not just windfalls for employers who would otherwise provide the training themselves, or that the training serves at least somewhat disadvantaged workers— whom employers might be reluctant to hire—requires some vigilance on the part of intermediaries or state officials.

Finally, a number of states are trying to develop “career pathways” that combine classroom work in a certificate or A.A. program with various amounts of work experience as they move up an occupational ladder of some type. For instance, students might first become a certified nursing assistant and then a licensed practical nurse, with some ultimately becoming registered nurses. A network of states are receiving technical assistance and support for developing a range of these programs (CLASP 2014) within broader career pathway “systems.” But little evidence exists to date on the impacts of these efforts (Fein et al. 2013).

  • [1] The National Fund is an effort funded by several philanthropic foundations to expand and scale sectoral training models at the city or regional level. It currently operates at over 30 sites around the country.
  • [2] See the White House (2014) for a very recent report by the Office of the Vice President on how to encourage more state and local workforce boards to engage in demand-driven (or “job driven”) training.
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