This report presents findings from a randomized controlled trial (RCT) study of Project QUEST, a pioneer in the sectoral employment field. QUEST provides comprehensive support and resources to help individuals complete occupational training programs at local community colleges and professional training institutes, pass certification exams, and obtain jobs in targeted industries. The report confirms that QUEST had a substantial positive impact on participants' annual earnings.

In 2005, Project QUEST agreed to take part in a randomized controlled trial (RCT) study to assess its impacts on participants’ earnings. Chapter 2 of this report describes QUEST’s recruitment and intake process during the study period as well as the characteristics of the study participants. Chapter 3 examines QUEST’s effects on participants’ employment, earnings, credential attainment, and financial well-being. Chapter 4 provides greater detail about the QUEST service model, participants’ experiences and outcomes, and program costs. The final chapter offers conclusions and discusses the implications of the findings for policy and programming targeted at improving the economic success of low-skilled, low-income workers. This report includes data that contain participant details, including characteristics and locations. It also provides participant profiles in which the participants have described their QUEST experience in their own words. This covers research conducted between 2006 and 2015. The report is 58 pages and was published in May 2018. A subsequent report summarizing the nine-year results of the Quest program was published in April 2019 and is available in Workforce System Strategies.

Major Findings & Recommendations

Rigorous RCT evaluations of a handful of sectoral training programs have found large earnings gains for participants. Project QUEST was initially part of the Sectoral Employment Impact Study. A 2010 report from the study on the other three organizations, which trained participants for jobs in information technology, construction, manufacturing, and health care, found that participants earned about $4,000 more than control group members in the second year after study enrollment. A 2016 study of four sectoral employment programs targeting similar industries found that all four providers increased participants’ employment in the targeted sector and the more experienced providers had substantial impacts on participants’ earnings two years after study enrollment. After three years, the study found varied impacts on earnings across sites and cohorts; one of the four programs demonstrated large earnings impacts that grew from the second to the third year.

Specific findings highlighted in the report include:

  • QUEST had a significant, sustained impact on participants’ earnings.
  • Six years after random assignment, QUEST participants were more consistently employed and earned higher hourly wages than control group members.
  • After six years, QUEST participants were more likely than control group members to be working in a health-care occupation.
  • During the six years after random assignment, QUEST participants were more likely than control group members to have earned a vocational certificate or license but less likely to have received a college degree.
  • At the time of the six-year follow-up survey, QUEST participants reported better financial stability than control group members.
  • QUEST had the most significant impact on the earnings of nontraditional college students and those who had previously struggled with completing education.