WorkAdvance US

1st Apr 2016

This case study explores connecting low-skilled adults with opportunities in high-demand sectors.


Many low-skilled adults in the US struggle to find and sustain jobs that pay enough to support their families, while at the same time employers report difficulties in recruiting workers with the skills they need. Past employment programmes have often failed to support participants to remain and progress once in work.

WorkAdvance is an exciting demonstration project which operated in four US cities; seeking to blend the most promising features of US sector-based programmes and post-employment programmes in order to deliver a larger and longer-lasting impact on employment, earnings and career progression. Designed to complement mainstream provision, WorkAdvance was a sector-focussed career advancement model that had the dual goals of meeting employer need for skilled labour while helping low-paid adults gain employment with opportunities for progression.

It featured a number of activities, including applicant screening, career readiness support, occupational skills training, job development and placement services and post-employment and career advancement coaching. The target sectors included manufacturing, health care, information technology, transportation and environmental remediation.

It is too early to assess its full impact, but WorkAdvance has shown early signs of promise; with indications of high rates of participation, training completions and achievement amongst programme participants.

“The theory behind WorkAdvance is that an employment program will be more effective in helping low-skilled individuals advance in the labour market the more it aligns its training, job preparation, job placement, and post-employment guidance with employers’ needs.” MDRC Policy Brief, June 2013

Aspirations and objectives

WorkAdvance is an innovative sector-focussed career advancement model in the US designed to help low-income adults prepare for, enter and progress in quality jobs, in high-demand sectors that offer the opportunity for career progression.

It was delivered through a public-private partnership, which was funded through the federal Corporation for National and Community Service’s Social Innovation Fund and led by the Mayor’s Fund to Advance New York City and NYC Center for Economic Opportunity.

The model was launched as a demonstration project, targeting low-income adults that are unemployed or in low-paid work in four US cities.


The core elements of the programme included:

  • Intensive screening of applicants – to ensure participants have a strong interest in the sector, have the capability to complete training and the potential to meet employer needs;
  • Sector-specific career readiness training – including CV and interview preparation and career planning;
  • Occupational skills training – where providers consulted with employers within target sectors to determine appropriate courses;
  • Sector specific job development – leveraging strong relationships between providers and potential employers in order to ‘open the door’ for programme participants;
  • Post-employment retention and advancement – including ongoing participant coaching, further skills development and contact with employers to assess performance and identify advancement opportunities.

Each provider focussed on occupations in one or two industry sectors (reflecting local demand conditions) and support was offered to participants for up to two years after enrolment.

Progress to date

WorkAdvance has been operating since 2011 and has enrolled over 2,500 individuals to the study. Half of the study sample are served by providers and half make up a control group.

Providers have been successful in engaging employers to act as advisors, informing curriculum design, advising on sector trends and conducting mock interviews. Training completion rates are high, with very few programme participants dropping out of occupational skills training within the first six months, relative to both the control group and compared to other programmes.

In most cases, completion of occupational skills training has led to the achievement of either a nationally or locally recognised qualification – a critical first step toward securing a job in the sector.

The impact evaluation findings, released in the Summer of 2016, shows the first evidence of the effects of WorkAdvance on employment rates, retention, wages, average earnings and financial well-being.

Measuring progress

  1. Participation in career advice and advancement services increased by between 26 and 46 percentage points*
  2. Participation in vocational training in the targeted sectors increased by between 38 and 49 percentage points*
  3. Participation in job search assistance increased by between 39 and 72 percentage points*

* Figures compare participation rates for WorkAdvance participants vs the control group, across each of the four sites

“Translating the WorkAdvance model into a set of concrete services took time, and a substantial amount of technical assistance, for all four providers. The model is demanding, in that it requires providers to have a strong capacity to work with both employers and program participants and also to incorporate a post-employment advancement component.”

“By fall 2013 the providers had all incorporated employer input and guidance into almost every part of the WorkAdvance program, including up-front screening, career readiness services, occupational skills training, and job development and placement — making WorkAdvance a truly employer-driven and demand-driven program.” MDRC Implementation Findings, October 2014