Funded with a Workforce Innovation Fund (WIF) grant, Steps Up to STEM was a workforce development program implemented in 11 counties by the four workforce areas that form New York’s Greater Capital Region Workforce Development Boards (GCR WDBs). The program’s aim was to increase awareness of and access to Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) career and training opportunities.

A key component of the program was the development of individualized career plans for middle-skill occupations. These served as three-way agreements among the workforce areas, the job seeker participant, and the employer. The majority of these career plans focused on two steps of participant training, which could include a mix of pre-hire classroom training, on-the-job training (OJT), and customized training. A total of 147 participants engaged in the individualized career plans. Lasting effects of the program have included: 1) Enhanced workforce system capacity via sustained grant innovations and preparation for WIOA; 2) Increased levels of engagement between the workforce system and regional employers; and 3) Stronger occupational outlook for participants, measured by transferrable skills and wages.

The evaluation of the Steps Up to STEM innovation included implementation, outcomes, and cost allocation studies.

(This report is 161 pages including appendices.)

Major Findings & Recommendations

The implementation study found that close relationships with employers were essential to gain enough buy-in to have adequate placement sites, and consortium leadership relied on close connections with WIF-funded staff and with each other. Program success was heavily dependent on workforce area responsiveness to the business as the customer; the program seemed to work best when it was highly customized and highly responsive. The program provides provided STEM labor market and career information to more than 14,400 job seekers and assessed approximately 2,200 people for STEM readiness, exceeding the program's goals by more than 60%; connected 147 individuals engaged in individualized career plans, with a total of 42 employers participating in Two-Step training contracts; provided 28 professional development opportunities to workforce staff. Finally, the study found that WDBs experimented with innovations, increasing capacity to prepare for and adapt to changes, such as WIOA.

The outcome study found that Steps Up to STEM improved training participants' wages by an average of $2.55/hour measured before and after training participation. 66% of individuals (97 of 147 individuals) attained their first of two training steps with an additional 16% still in the process of that training. Of the 71 participants who had a Step Two Goal, approximately half (35 individuals) obtained their Step Two goal with another 15% still progressing through. Steps Up to STEM did not appear to influence job retention, but the analysis was limited due to missing data.

The researchers provided the following recommendations related to the implementation of the model:

  1. Initial start-up takes time and requires consideration of establishing investment (time and money) needs, understanding consortium area differences and how to best leverage strengths, establishing buy-in of leaders and staff, setting up regular meetings, creating an employer engagement approach, and clearly communicating the initiative vision.
  2. Levels of program staffing including the need for business support and data-focused staff, and staff trainings.
  3. The Two-Step model need not be limited to STEM and is appropriate for a wide range of occupations.
  4. The Train First adaptation of the model (sector-based training approach) may be a lower barrier to entry in regions that lack stronger employer support of the workforce investment system.