Building Regional Networks to Bridge Skills Gaps
(Employment and Training Programs)
*Names in bold indicate Presenter
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.