Socioeconomic Supports in Job Training Programs: How You Can Help Determine their Value

This post originally appeared in the August/September 2015 edition of NAWDP Advantage, the newsletter of the National Association of Workforce Development Professionals. September is designated as Workforce Development Month.


By Rachel Linn, Communications Associate, and Cynthia Hess, Study Director

Job training can provide an entry into family-sustaining jobs and careers, yet many adults face economic, scheduling, and other challenges that make it difficult for them to enroll and succeed in job training programs. Socioeconomic supports—or wraparound services, such as child care assistance, access to public benefits, and transportation or housing assistance—can help adults, particularly those with caregiving responsibilities, to complete job training programs that will ultimately improve their economic standing.

Socioeconomic supports, as a route to job training access and success, are especially important for women, who increasingly serve as breadwinners for their families, but still face a pay gap. The Institute for Women’s Policy Research found that as of 2013, women were the primary or co-breadwinner in half of families with children under age 18 in the United States — yet women continue to earn less, and experience higher poverty than comparable men.

Evaluation research points to the importance of socioeconomic support services for job training completion and success. An evaluation of nine sectoral programs found that supportive services were often necessary to help participants complete job training and obtain jobs. In particular, Project QUEST, a community-based workforce development program in San Antonio, had higher completion rates than other training programs of similar duration, which the evaluator attributed to the strong support system that Project QUEST provides. An evaluation of the outcomes of participants in three job training programs in Maryland, Missouri, and New Mexico that implement an approach developed by the Center for Working Families (which bundles core services for participants) found that integrated service delivery was associated with the completion of job training or degree programs, as well as job retention and advancement. In all of the programs, the highest achievers were more likely to have received wraparound services, compared with all other participants.

Despite anecdotal evidence and some studies pointing to the importance of wraparound supports for job training participants, little is known about how many job training programs offer supports of different types and which supports best meet the needs of low-income women, who typically have more caregiving responsibilities than comparable men. IWPR recently launched a research initiative to address this gap. “Socioeconomic Supports and Women’s Job Training Success,” seeks to improve knowledge about the landscape of socioeconomic support provision within the U.S. workforce development system and stimulate national dialogue about the importance of these supports in promoting job training success.

Funded by the Walmart Foundation, the initiative will use a variety of research methods—including a literature review, expert interviews, a promising practices study, and online surveys of administrators and participants from job training programs—to gather and examine information on the prevalence of socioeconomic supports in job training programs, their perceived effectiveness, and promising practices in service support delivery. The project will produce a series of research products and hold outreach activities to promote dialogue among program leaders, advocates, policymakers, and workforce development researchers.

The project aims to provide information that can help programs, and the workforce development system as a whole, effectively target their investments in socioeconomic supports. To help with this study, IWPR is seeking input from professionals in the field as well as job training participants. Please contact Rachel Linn if you would like to participate in a survey, as a part of this national study, or have suggestions for programs that are effectively providing socioeconomic supports.

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