Panel Paper: Promoting Successful Career Transitions for Low-Income Young Adults: Impacts on School to Work Sequences

Friday, November 8, 2019
Plaza Building: Lobby Level, Director's Row H (Sheraton Denver Downtown)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

David Fein and Matthew Zeidenberg, Abt Associates, Inc.

Young adulthood is a critical stage of life for taking steps leading to secure, well-paying employment—a time when circumstances and thinking are relatively flexible and when decades remain to build productive careers. Increasingly, good jobs require at least a year of post-secondary education and training. But, for reasons ranging from low basic skills to financial and family challenges, such training often is difficult for young adults from low-income communities to obtain. Accordingly, millions of them do not find solid footing on career pathways.

This working paper examines early career steps of young adults who participated in three programs designed to promote successful career transitions: Year Up, Integrated Basic Education and Skills Training (I-BEST), and Valley Initiative for Development and Advancement (VIDA). The three programs are part of the Pathways for Advancing Careers and Education (PACE) project—a national evaluation of career pathways strategies sponsored by the federal Administration for Children and Families.

We focus on two main questions: What initial steps do program participants take, and to what degree do they connect to career pathways? To what degree can well-designed programs facilitate successful career transitions? To answer these questions, we exploit fine-grained data on spells of education and employment and the ability to compare participants with well-matched non-participants in a randomly assigned control group.

The three programs target different populations and occupations. Year Up works exclusively with young adults aged 18-24, providing training for entry-level positions in IT and financial services occupations. I-BEST and VIDA serve low-income adults of all ages (37 percent of whom were aged 18-24 at intake) and train participants in a variety of other occupations. All three programs generated sizable increases in either earnings (Year Up) or college outcomes (I-BEST, VIDA) in an initial round of analyses covering 1.5 to 3 years of follow-up. Such findings suggest important transitions were stimulated and signal that closer analysis will be fruitful.

We draw on two data sources. The first is a follow-up survey that documented all spells of education and employment for participants and control group members during the first three years after study enrollment. The second is administrative records from two data systems: the National Student Clearinghouse (including college records) and the National Directory of New Hires (including employer wage records). We have such data for five years after study enrollment.

We use two analytic strategies to describe career transitions. The first involves identifying and classifying trajectories of education and employment for individuals. The second conceives and measures transitions as aggregate flows between possible positions on career pathways.

Having developed several measures of career transitions, the analysis assesses important sources of variation in transition experiences. We look first at the extent to which particular patterns vary for young adults from different backgrounds and who train for different occupations. We analyze then the extent to which each of the three programs influenced different types of career transitions.