The New Orleans Office of Workforce Development (OWD) used its Workforce Innovation Fund (WIF) grant to design, implement, and test the Career Pathways program. The program name was shortened from “Summer Career Pathways” to “Career Pathways” when the program expanded to serve multiple cohorts year-round instead of one cohort each summer.

Career Pathways was designed to help lower-skilled individuals train for and find jobs in advanced manufacturing, energy, health care, and information technology fields. The program’s main components were:

  1. A rigorous screening system;
  2. Offering career pathways training that incorporates stackable credentials; and
  3. Coordination for connecting trainees to employers.
    For the training component, there were 367 participants in 25 cohorts who were offered two rounds of training and a subsidy to cover materials and training related costs. The evaluation consisted of an implementation study, a randomized control trial study, and a cost study. Data sources for the evaluation included stakeholder interviews and focus groups, program documents, program data, administrative employment and earnings data, surveys, and criminal justice records.

(The report is 136 pages long including attachments.)

Major Findings & Recommendations

The first round of training was a two-month classroom-based training, followed by an optional second “stackable” credit training. Of the 83% of participants who attended at least one session of the first training, 77.8% completed the training, for an overall completion rate of 64.4%. Roughly 20% of participants participated in the optional second training program.

Overall, the The positive returns to society suggest that this program demonstrates a good use of public resources and could potentially be a model for future training programs. However, some patience is required. The first two cohorts had earnings losses, and the program did not have benefits exceed costs for the government until five years after the start of the program.

Findings from the study included the following:

  • OWD transitioned from relying on external partners (e.g., businesses in the hospitality and leisure field and local cultural partners) for recruitment to overseeing the responsibilities internally, with support from a contractor.
  • The screening process became more rigorous over time. The process eventually included a two-day orientation, a 45-minute interview to assess interested candidates’ likelihood of completing the program, and basic skills assessments.
  • Participation and completion rates were high. About 83% of individuals in the training group attended at least one class. The overall completion rate was about 64%.
  • There were positive program impacts on earnings; however, there were no statistically significant impacts on the likelihood of being employed or persisting in a job.
  • Individuals who were unemployed and who had lower earnings when they started the training had the largest increases in earnings compared to control group members.
  • Some stakeholders were worried that the Partnership would use Career Connect as a punitive compliance tool. The eventual system had a scaled-down number of interfaces, which meant that Career Connect was not as useful as originally intended.

The evaluator offered several recommendations for implementing similar projects in the future. These included:

  1. Integrate more hands-on and work-based learning opportunities;
  2. Make sure that there are strong connections between the training programs and the local labor market;
  3. Review labor market demand regularly to respond to evolving trends; and
  4. Clearly communicate to participants the full range of program benefits and supports available.