Nine workforce boards in four states collaborated to implement an Integrated Basic Education and Skills Training (I-BEST) strategy first piloted in Washington State. The Accelerating Connections to Employment (ACE) Project sought to help participants manage the training process and to access related available supports through career navigators, and to aid in the transition to employment with the assistance of a job developer.

The research team completed a hybrid evaluation that included an Implementation evaluation, random control trial impact analysis, and cost analysis of the ACE Workforce Innovation Fund (WIF) grant. The ACE project was led by the Baltimore County Department of Economic and Workforce Development. It included a consortium of nine Workforce Investment Boards and ten community colleges across four states: Maryland, Texas, Georgia, and Connecticut. The program, modeled on Washington State’s Integrated Basic Education and Skills Training (I-BEST) strategy, included ten key components:

  1. Targeted training to low-skill occupations in industries with labor demand;
  2. Employer engagement;
  3. Training towards credentials;
  4. Pre- and post-testing to assess participant learning;
  5. Screening to ensure participant/program match;
  6. Integrated basic skills and occupational training curricula using a “co-teaching” model of a separate occupational instructor and basic skills or ESL instructor;
  7. Support services;
  8. Employment support services to aid in the transition to employment;
  9. The collaboration of WIB and local community college; and
  10. Participant tracking to measure outcomes.

The nine sites offered training in industries such as health care (e.g., dental assisting, medical billing, dietary aide, pharmacy tech), transportation (e.g., bus or commercial driver’s license, warehouse logistics), and industries specific to local area (e.g., casino dealer, apartment maintenance, utility installer).

(There are two volumes associated with this study: Volume I is 150 pages long and Volume II is 168 pages long.)

Major Findings & Recommendations

The implementation study found that the ACE program achieved most of the required elements and met its recruitment and completion targets. Collaboration between the local WDBs and community colleges was difficult, as the two institutions needed to learn each other’s cultures and agreed on appropriate roles and responsibilities. Sites developed their training programs in response to both initial labor market information, and information on employer needs and participant interest.

  • The study found that early employer involvement was key to both gauge labor demand and design training focused on employer-valued skills and credentials;
  • The co-teaching model of integrating basic skills/ESL and occupational training using separate instructors was costly, time-consuming, and at times difficult to implement.

The RCT evaluation found that the ACE program had a positive impact on employment one and two years after the program, as measured by:

  • Participants registering positive earnings in either the first four or eight quarters after randomization;
  • A positive impact on total earnings within one and two years after randomization in three of the four states;
  • Some evidence of positive impacts on measures of job quality, including the proportion of participants earning at least $13 per hour one year after randomization;
  • The proportion of program participants working at least 35 hours.