Panel: Building Regional Networks to Bridge Skills Gaps
(Employment and Training Programs)

Saturday, November 4, 2017: 3:30 PM-5:00 PM
Haymarket (Hyatt Regency Chicago)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Panel Organizers:  Marian Negoita, Social Policy Research Associates
Panel Chairs:  Kate Dunham, Social Policy Research Associates
Discussants:  Michelle Van Noy, Rutgers University

Bridging Network Failures: An Examination of Taaccct-Funded Initiatives
Marian Negoita, Social Policy Research Associates

Choosing a Career: Lessons Learned from TAACCCT
Alex I Ruder, University of South Carolina and Heather McKay, Rutgers University

One of the most important labor market trends of the last few decades has been the increased premium placed on skills and education.  Increasingly, good-paying jobs require a higher level of skills and credentials than ever before. Unfortunately, however, the labor supply has not kept pace with this demand. Falling postsecondary degree achievement has meant that a larger proportion of job seekers failed to secure a stable, well-paying job, leading to a sharp increase in the inequality of wages.

One of the main factors behind this trend, besides falling public investment, has been the disconnect between the private, education, and workforce development sectors. Career pathways initiatives aim to fix coordination problems between education, workforce development, and employers and in so doing, to contribute to better educational achievement and correspondingly higher incomes and lower income inequality. Career pathways systems include a clearly specified sequence, or pathway, of education coursework and/or training credentials aligned with employers’ needs for competencies.  This system-based approach is intended to make it easier for students to earn industry-recognized credentials, in a flexible manner, and to achieve marketable skills so that they can find work in promising careers.

To date, however, the evidence on the functioning of career pathways has been slim. Before the mid-2010s, few rigorous studies assessed the impact of whole career pathway systems, although particular components were evaluated and found effective (Richburg-Hayes et al, 2013; Brock, 2010). The Trade Adjustment Assistance Community College and Career Training (TAACCCT) grant program, funded by the US Department of Labor (USDOL), represented a momentous change in this regard. Between 2011 and 2014, USDOL awarded four rounds of TAACCCT grants to hundreds of community colleges around the U.S. to develop local and regional career pathways. Moreover, beginning in 2012 USDOL required each grantee to conduct an evaluation of the program that describes project implementation as well as outcomes and impacts. In effect, USDOL commissioned hundreds of studies that examine the functioning and effects of career pathways; this represents an unprecedented opportunity to study career pathways.

The papers featured in this panel utilize evidence collected as part of evaluations of TAACCCT-funded programs in order to assess the role of TAACCCT-funded initiatives in strengthening regional (and in some cases, cross-regional) collaborations between career pathways participants, such as community colleges, employer associations, workforce intermediaries, and community-based organizations. Arguably, developing an ongoing collaboration infrastructure represents perhaps the most important potential effect of career pathways since it ensures that career pathways will continue to grow and adapt to changing conditions—especially in regions adversely affected by economic downturns and rapid degrading of industrial capacity. The papers emphasize certain conditions that seem to promote ongoing collaboration, including establishing trust, enhancing the competence of partners, ongoing consultation in developing programs, and others. The papers also emphasize that these effects are by no means guaranteed, and depend on specific local and regional conditions. Lastly, several papers review beneficial outcomes and impacts of TAACCCT-funded initiatives in terms of program completion, advancement along career pathways, and employment and earnings.

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