Access to Better Jobs: Workforce Development Projects aim to Lift Up Working Women

For nearly 30 years, IWPR has analyzed and charted women’s experiences in the workforce and recently launched two projects aimed at examining strategies to continue to encourage, recruit, and retain women in jobs that provide family-sustaining wages. One project, Pathways to Equity, focuses on improving women’s access to good middle-skill jobs in three sector of the economy, while Job Training Success, examines how socioeconomic supports, such as child care and transportation subsidies, can lead to success in job training programs, particularly for women participants.

In Narrowing the Wage Gap by Improving Women’s Access to Good Middle-Skill Jobs, funded by the JPMorgan Chase Foundation’s New Skills at Work initiative, IWPR examined 473 occupations looking for opportunities to advance women into higher paying male-dominated, middle-skill jobs. Middle-skill jobs—occupations that require more than a high school education, but not a college degree—often pay a living wage and can act as a stepping stone to a higher paying career.

Manufacturing, IT, and Transportation jobs are projected to grow in the next decade, but employers report they are finding it difficult to fill these middle-skill positions. While women make up only 7 percent of workers in the manufacturing field, 533,000 good middle-skill jobs will become available over the next decade. These numbers are similar in both IT (women 29%, 240,000 available jobs) and transportation (women 9%, 1.3 million available jobs). If just 10 percent of women moved into similar but higher paying middle-skill jobs, often the sectors they are already working, their median incomes would increase by more than 50 percent.

women-in-middle-skill-jobs

The lack of women in these higher paying male-dominated occupations is due, in part, to conventional belief about gender roles and superficial differences in the skills necessary to succeed in certain jobs. For example, a Library Assistant could embark on the traditional path of attaining a college and master’s degree through a six year program to become a Librarian. Or, a Library Assistant can choose to become an IT Support Specialist, which requires less than half the years of education and would provide earnings that are about the same as a Librarian. IWPR’s report offers steps employers can take to reduce industry shortages of skilled labor and close the gap between women and men in good middle-skill jobs. For example, employers can provide more training and mentoring, flexible workplace policies, and provide a safe and welcoming work environment for women.

In addition to the report, IWPR launched a website, womenandgoodjobs.org, which helps users identify pools of skilled women workers who could be tapped to fill shortages, ensuring that the economy benefits from the talent of its whole workforce. The website offers an interactive database to explore ‘on-ramp’ occupations—those occupations dominated by women with many similar traits and duties as higher-paying jobs dominated by men—and associated target occupations with higher earnings. Read the Initiative’s research findings and explore the site at womenandgoodjobs.org.

While women are over half of the total middle-skill workforce, they make up only a third of middle-skill workers who make at least $35,000 per year.

In February 2016, IWPR launched its Job Training Success Project with the release of the report, Supportive Services in Job Training and Education, funded by the Walmart Foundation. The report presents a summary of research findings on the importance, effectiveness, and availability of support services for job training program participants in the United States. The report also provides recommendations on funding sources available to combat the common barriers to employment and training, such as lack of access to child care, transportation, and stable housing.

Job training programs offer individuals access to opportunities that prepare them for good jobs with family-sustaining wages. Challenges that hinder completion of these programs point to the need for better access to supportive services; however, few studies have researched the need or impact of these services on job training outcomes. The examination of which supportive services are available to job training participants and the evidence of these services leading to better outcomes are detailed in this 60 page in-depth report, which can be found on www.iwpr.org.

Previous research shows that 69 percent of low-income parents in education and training programs have children younger than six years old. Although 36 percent of organizations provided financial literacy or counseling and 48 percent provided transportation assistance, only 6 percent provided child care assistance.

More than three in ten women receiving job training through a WIA-funded program in 2013 did not complete the program, most likely due to low percentage (18%) who received support services.

Available funding for support services is decreasing every year. Integrated case management helps provide participants support and guidance as they navigate the various systems provide support services. Strengthening partnerships between organizations can maximize resources to provide the support services needed for individuals to complete their programs. An effective job training system that provides women with the necessary support to improve their options in the labor market is critical, and while this research takes a first step toward closing the information gap, further research is needed.

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