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Conference Season Insights: Three Evidence-Building Priorities for Workforce Development
October 23, 2023
Experts Radha Roy, Brooke Abrams, Tresa Kappil, Marissa Cuellar, Holly Harris, and Hannah Engle at Abt’s booth at the 2023 NARWS Workshop.
Since the onset of COVID-19, changes in the labor market—such as worker shortages and a renewed focus on worker protection and rights—have highlighted the importance of focusing on job quality in workforce development programs. Those with the lowest wages—who are disproportionately people of color and women—often face the least job stability, agency, and opportunities for advancement to quality jobs. For example, lack of access to what are the hallmarks of quality jobs—benefits like health insurance, retirement savings, and paid (and unpaid) family and medical leave—limits low-wage workers’ abilities to improve their economic stability and build savings and wealth. Workforce development programs are therefore increasingly tailoring their approaches to both focus on quality jobs and recognize disparities in job quality based on race and gender.
1. Start with the needs of workers and what they want out of their jobs. It might seem obvious: people work to earn money and higher wages. But research on workforce development requires understanding the fuller picture: how workers feel about their jobs, why they decide to pursue a particular job, barriers they face on the job, and what their job means to them in the context of their family life. Centering the experiences of workers in our research has shed light on what their priorities are. For example, in Abt’s evaluation of the Health Profession Opportunity Grants (HPOG) program—components of which we presented at NAWRS and will also share at APPAM—we learned that participants in training programs persisted not just to earn more money, but also to be a role model for their children, to earn a higher wage in order to work fewer jobs and spend time with family, and to gain greater job satisfaction. Insights presented at NAWRS from our Guaranteed Income team’s research with low-income parents illustrated the careful decisions parents make about factors like job schedules and commute times so that they can participate fully in their children’s lives.
Abt's Deena Schwartz presenting on integrating a structural lens into employment and training program evaluations.
2. Center the experiences of workers of color, women, and especially women of color. Disparities in labor market outcomes by race, ethnicity, and gender are well documented, but understanding how and why these disparities occur is key to developing effective policy solutions. What is clear is that while there is no single mechanism that accounts for all inequities, some arise from the types of jobs workers hold and train for. For example, Abt’s 2018 Family and Medical Leave Act Surveys showed that a much higher proportion of low-wage workers (who are primarily women of color) do not receive pay—and even lose their jobs—after they take leave for a family and medical reason. Another recent Abt evaluation of the Department of Labor’s American Apprenticeship Initiative found that, while apprentices who were women and/or people of color saw the greatest earnings growth relative to their earnings prior to their apprenticeship, white women apprentices saw greater growth in earnings than Black women. This was due in part to white women opting fortraining in registered nursing while Black women focused on pharmacy technician, a field that pays less on average. And we also know from our Career Trajectories and Occupational Transitions study that even when workers do enter the same occupation, women and workers of color earn less over time. These gaps are especially striking for women of color.
As we bring our conference season insights—particularly from our partners in the federal government—back to our daily work, we’re eager to move these priorities forward. And if you will be at APPAM, please join us for these relevant sessions: