Study Shows Specialized Job Training Increases Wages, Jobs for Disadvantaged Workers

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The first randomized controlled trial evaluation of sector-specific training programs for low-skilled and disadvantaged workers found that participants in three such programs were more likely to be employed, to earn more money and to have employee benefits that members of the control groups.

The study by Public/Private Ventures, with funding from the Charles Stuart Mott Foundation, looked at three training programs in different parts of the country that developed short-term training programs in response to job needs in their area. All of the programs in the study had been in operation for several years and were run by nonprofits.

The study included almost 1,300 trainees/workers, who were followed for two years, beginning with their training programs. Half of the participants were assigned to the job training programs, the other half could not receive training from those programs for two years, though they could seek training elsewhere.

In the year before the study, participants had worked an average of about seven months; only 10 percent had worked fulltime for the entire year. Twenty-three percent were on welfare at the time the study began; 34 percent were employed.

Overall, trainees earned about 18 percent more than the control group, or about $4,500 more, and most of the gains were made in the second year of the study. In the second year of the study, 52 percent of the trainees were employed, compared with 41 percent of the control group. Fifty-nine percent of the trainee group made more than $11 an hour, compared with 45 percent of the control group in the first year; 55 percent made more than $11 an hour in the second year, compared with 42 percent for the control group.  There were similar comparisons between the two groups for those making $13 or more an hour.

The percentage of trainees who worked jobs offering benefits such as vacations and health insurance was between 50 percent and 60 percent, compared with 40 to 50 percent for the control group. Though there were difference among the three job training programs, all trainees had significant earnings gains compared with their control counterparts.

The study, which began in 2003 and focused on the Wisconsin Regional Training Partnership, JVS-Boston and Per Scholas in the Bronx, showed different outcomes among different age and disadvantaged groups for various training programs.

For example, JVS-Boston, which offers  5 ½ month training programs tailored to requests from local employers, produced better results for younger employees, while the Wisconsin program produced better results for more experienced workers.

The study concluded that more attention needs to be directed at such skill-specific programs, though scaling them up presents unusual challenges because they must be flexible to meet the local needs.

Read the executive summary of the study here.