How can a worker who feels stuck in a low-wage job or whose job
becomes obsolete start building a career with potential? For many
workers without a college degree, the opportunities to earn higher
wages and achieve career advancement are limited. Analysis of a
randomized controlled trial of WorkAdvance, a workforce development program, by Institute advisor Lawrence
Katz and colleagues shows that training programs can help workers land better jobs if the programs offer
training in the skills that employers in growing industries want and the supports that employees making big
transitions need to succeed. Let's see how the pieces fit together.
Move out of low-paying job
Concentrated in industries like retail and food services,
workers without a college degree saw their median
inflation-adjusted salaries stagnate between 2000 and
2019, growing by a paltry 0.2%.
Develop skills for growth industries
Participants complete career
readiness and occupational
training for industries with
strong local labor demand and
the potential for long-term
training quadruples the
share of workers who
earn a credential.
Land a new job and earn more
Training programs double the number
of workers who move into the industries
targeted by the program, such as information
technology and medical billing. These workers
drive a 13% increase in average wages
compared with the control group.
Nina Leo/Minneapolis Fed; Getty Images
Keep the momentum
Higher wages last for at least three years.
Counselors contribute to this success by
supporting workers dealing with challenges
like child care or transportation and by
helping employers fairly evaluate their
Sources: Lawrence F. Katz, Jonathan Roth, Richard Hendra, and Kelsey Schaberg, “Why Do Sectoral Employment Programs Work? Lessons from WorkAdvance,” working
paper (2020). Richard Hendra, David H. Greenberg, Gayle Hamilton, Ari Oppenheim, Alexandra Pennington, Kelsey Schaberg, and Betsy L. Tessler, “Encouraging Evidence
on a Sector-Focused Advancement Strategy: Two-Year Impacts from the WorkAdvance Demonstration,” MDRC report (2016). Kelly Schaberg, “Meeting the Needs of Job
Seekers and Employers,” MDRC report (2020)