The Paths They Take: Transitions to Careers Among Low-Income Young Adults
(Employment and Training Programs)
*Names in bold indicate Presenter
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 on solid first steps. Increasingly, at least a year of post-secondary education and training is needed for middle-skilled jobs with good prospects for upward mobility. But success in college – the most widely available post-secondary option – is often difficult for young adults from low-income communities to achieve. Having missed the opportunity to start careers early in life, millions subsequently are unable to find and sustain good jobs, exacting substantial long-term costs for them and the rest of society.
In recent decades, there has been a surge of policies and programs seeking to create alternative pathways to careers. They typically offer employment-focused education and training in shorter, more manageable doses with improvements in instruction and stronger supports. These programs generally aim to set participants up to continue training at progressively higher levels as circumstances permit. Many programs work closely with local employers to create pipelines to occupations in local demand for participants who finish training.
Recent evaluations offer encouraging signs that many of these emerging approaches are the right track. A number of them have proven successful in boosting credentials and employment in growing occupational sectors. However, to date the outcomes analyzed in these studies have been limited to traditional measures of levels of education and employment. As a result we know little about the kinds of transitions programs foster and the paths young adults experiencing these transitions follow.
The papers in this panel begin to address this gap.
The panel begins with a presentation by Harry Holzer of Georgetown University that broadly frames the topic. It introduces a range of potential career pathways out of high school, reviews the state of evidence on these pathways, and distinguishes major types of interventions aimed at promoting them.
A second paper, presented by Dan Goldhaber of the American Institutes for Research, uses a rich administrative data set from Washington State to examine, first, transitions from high school to college for students with varying concentrations of Career and Technical Education (CTE) credits and, second, the varying academic and career pathways “CTE concentrators” follow in college.
Two following papers exploit rich survey and administrative data to analyze career transitions among young adults who participated in randomized controlled trials of several leading transition-to-career programs. The first, by David Fein of Abt Associates describes and assesses impacts on career trajectories for young adults in several prominent programs evaluated for the Pathways to Advancing Careers and Education evaluation. The second, by MDRC’s Danielle Cummings, addresses similar questions for the more highly disadvantaged sample of young adult participants in the Subsidized and Transitional Employment Demonstration.