Summarizes interventions that use work-readiness services to improve employment outcomes of low-income adults, as described in rigorous studies conducted from 1990 to mid-2014, and provides suggestions for future research to determine whether work-readiness interventions will be similarly effective in different contexts.

The Office of Planning, Research, and Evaluation (OPRE) in the Administration for Children and Families (ACF) sponsored the Employment Strategies for Low-Income Adults Evidence Review (ESER)--a systematic review of the literature published from 1990 to mid-2014 on the effect of employment and training programs and strategies for low-income individuals. This brief is one in a “series of briefs [that] offers a synthesis of the findings of ESER for policymakers, practitioners, and officials who seek to improve the employment and earnings outcomes of low-income adults through research-based interventions. This brief focuses on work-readiness interventions…from 1990 to mid-2014” (p.1).

“Trained reviewers examined the strength of the causal evidence for each study…then rated each study based on its rigor (not on the effectiveness of the intervention).…The ESER team identified a ‘primary strategy’ for each intervention[:]…the service most treatment group members received and most comparison group members did not.…The team determined the primary strategy for each intervention by having two reviewers independently read the description of each intervention, identify a primary strategy, compare their assessments, and discuss until they reached agreement” (p.2). The team only reviewed studies that used “randomized controlled trials or comparison group designs” (p.1).

The authors discuss “19 interventions…and their impact on employment and earnings that delivered work-readiness services as their primary strategy [and] focused on three populations: public assistance recipients, non-custodial parents, and unemployment insurance…claimants” (p.1). The interventions tested various services among public assistance recipients, such as welfare benefits and job search assistance (p.1). The study samples across all 19 interventions varied in ethnic composition, age, and educational attainment….All 19 interventions offered other services in addition to work-readiness services. All but five also included explicit financial incentives for work…most included supportive services…and some form of training…and education” (p.2).

 (Abstractor: Author and Website Staff)

Major Findings & Recommendations

“Across the [19] interventions examined, [most of] the impacts on short- and long-term employment and earnings were…favorable” and none were negative (p.2). Although the six promising interventions varied, many provided case management or work-readiness assistance, such as job search assistance, supportive services, and financial sanctions and incentives (p.4-7). “Although these [six] interventions overall seem…promising, the interventions examined are diverse in the types of clients they served, the context in which they operated, and the magnitudes of their impacts on participants’ employment and earnings. In addition, many of the interventions bundled a number of other employment and training strategies together with work readiness. This makes it difficult…to draw firm conclusions on the effectiveness of incorporating work-readiness services alone into future employment and training programs….In addition, few interventions that emphasize work readiness and rate high or moderate on ESER’s criteria have been tested within the past several years” (p.8). “Although…promising, more research is needed to determine whether similar work-readiness interventions continue to be equally effective in [the] current policy and economic context” (p.8). (Abstractor: Author and Website Staff)