A report on a rigorous evaluation of federally funded employment services and job training programs recently released by the U.S. Department of Labor and Mathematica found that individualized staff assistance helped job seekers earn 20 percent more on average. Job seekers who were offered individualized staff assistance were also more likely to find jobs that offered paid sick leave and vacation days. Although inconclusive, the study also found suggestive evidence that offering training funded by the programs did not improve employment outcomes for job seekers.
The study evaluated the Adult and Dislocated Worker programs, two of the nation’s largest publicly funded programs providing employment and training services to about 7 million people annually at a combined cost of $1.8 billion. First funded under the Workforce Investment Act of 1998, these programs are now funded under that act’s successor, the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA). Despite the programs’ importance, this is the first evaluation of them to use the most rigorous methods.
From November 2011 to April 2013, Mathematica conducted a randomized controlled trial—a research method often referred to as the gold standard of study designs. The study included more than 34,000 job seekers at more than 200 American Job Centers in 28 randomly-selected local workforce areas across the country. Because the local workforce areas were selected randomly, the findings from the study can be generalized to workforce areas nationwide.
During the study, participants in these workforce areas were randomly assigned to one of three study groups. Participants in the first group were offered the services that they would have been offered by the Adult or Dislocated Worker programs in the absence of the study, including job training, individualized staff assistance from employment counselors in job search and career and services planning, and a wide range of information and tools accessible with little staff assistance called core services. Participants in the second group were offered only individualized staff assistance and core services, but not training. Participants in the third group were offered only core services and neither training nor individualized staff assistance. Researchers used follow-up surveys and administrative records to track participants’ employment outcomes in each of these three groups for 30 months after they enrolled in the study.
The following are the main findings from the study:
- Job seekers who had access to individualized staff assistance earned about $7,100 (or 20 percent) more over the course of 30 months. This increase occurred partly because the services led to more of these job seekers finding jobs and partly because the jobs they found had higher wages than those found by job seekers offered only core services.
- Those offered individual staff assistance through the Adult and Dislocated Worker programs who found jobs were more likely to find full-time positions and jobs with fringe benefits than those not offered this assistance. The study found that 71 percent of those offered individual staff assistance who found jobs found a full-time job versus 66 percent of those workers who were offered only core services and not individual staff assistance. Those offered individual staff assistance were more likely to have jobs with paid holidays and paid sick days.
- The benefits of this individual staff assistance outweighed its costs. A cost-benefit analysis conducted as part of the evaluation found that job seekers benefitted because their earnings increased. Taxpayers also benefitted because the increased taxes paid on the increased earnings were higher than the cost of the services.
- Although inconclusive, the study suggests that the training offered by the programs did not improve employment or earnings. In the 30 months after enrollment, the study participants offered training from the Adult or Dislocated Worker programs did not experience an increase in employment or earnings. But training funds from the Adult and Dislocated Worker programs were limited at the time of the study, so the programs offered funding for training to only about one-third of their participants. Moreover, many participants in all study groups received funding for training from sources other than the Adult and Dislocated Worker programs. Because differences across study groups in training enrollment were small, the study results were inconclusive.
- The study found that the Adult and Dislocated Worker programs increased the likelihood of participants completing training and earning a credential. The study found that access to an unrestricted set of services under the Adult or Dislocated Worker programs increased the likelihood that participants completed a training program and received a credential for completing a training program.
- A minority of enrollees in training found jobs that were directly related to their training. Among study participants who had access to all Adult or Dislocated Worker program services, only half who enrolled in training reported that they found a job because of their training. Moreover, only about two of every five people who enrolled in training for a specific occupation found a job in that same occupation.
- Although found to be effective, individual staff assistance on its own is not enough to address the challenges of program participants. By the end of the study period, the average annual household income of job seekers who could receive individualized staff assistance but not training funded by the Adult or Dislocated Worker programs was only about $30,000, and many still relied on public assistance. These job seekers might have needed additional services to increase their skills and find employment that would enable them to be self-sufficient.
Since the study was conducted, WIOA made important changes to training offered by the Adult and Dislocated Worker programs. WIOA requires the programs to more closely align training with employers’ needs and to offer training that will lead to jobs with promising career paths. Evidence from other studies suggests that these enhancements will increase the effectiveness of training.
To learn more about the evaluation and access Mathematica’s research on federal job training programs, visit our training and reemployment webpage.
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