Panel Paper: Successful Characteristics of Job Training Programs for Disadvantaged Workers: A Mixed-Methods Evaluation of Several Contemporaneous Training Programs in New Orleans

Thursday, November 7, 2019
Plaza Building: Concourse Level, Plaza Ballroom F (Sheraton Denver Downtown)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Matthew D. Baird, John Engberg, Gabriella Gonzalez, Thomas Goughnour, Italo Gutierrez and Rita Karam, RAND Corporation

There is a wide literature on the effectiveness of job training programs for disadvantaged workers. Some programs have been found to be successful, leading to higher employment rates and earnings, while other programs have been found to not be effective. However, it is difficult to make comparisons of the programs with each other, given the large differences in the underlying recruited populations, differences in the local governments involved, and differences in the local economy and timing of the program in the business cycle, among other things. In this paper, we leverage an evaluation of over 20 separate training cohorts all happening within a three year span in the same city. All were implemented by the city of New Orleans through funding by the U.S. Department of Labor Workforce Innovation Fund using a randomized controlled trial design. This solves the comparability problem by having the same underlying population and local economy and implementer, unlike the literature. However, elements of the training programs we would want to compare did differ across cohorts. There was variation in how the trainees were selected from the pool of applicants, different training providers, different training pathways, and different experiences in actual training. This led to wide variation in the success of the programs in terms of employment outcomes post-training as estimated from the RCT design. In this study, we perform a mixed-methods evaluation design to estimate the success of each separate training cohort and then evaluate the characteristics related to success or non-success of a cohort to shed new light on what makes these types of programs successful. We use administrative data on quarterly earnings and criminal justice outcomes for the quantitative analysis and conducted interviews with training providers and local firms, telephone surveys with treatment and control individuals, and focus groups with trainees regarding their training experience. We evaluate what characteristics are most likely to lead to effective job training programs while holding constant the underlying populations of interest, a key contribution to the literature, and come out with suggestions of key elements of a training program for disadvantage workers that would improve successfulness of these programs.