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Tuning in to local labor markets: Findings from the sectoral employment impact study

For American workers, having a high school or general equivalency diploma (GED)—which once represented a means of entrance to the middle class—is no longer adequate for finding steady employment. In fact, three quarters of low wage workers have these qualifications but lack the relevant occupational skills and connections to employers needed to launch a career. At the same time, in some regions of the country there are persistent skills gaps clustered in particular industries, such as manufacturing and healthcare. Many of these jobs are expected to grow3 and require specific technical skills that can be gained only through focused training that is closely linked to the needs of local businesses. Over the past two decades, an innovative approach to workforce development known as sectoral employment has emerged, resulting in the creation of industry-specific training programs that prepare unemployed and under-skilled workers for skilled positions and connect them with employers seeking to fill such vacancies. Based on earlier outcomes studies pointing to the promise of this strategy, Public/Private Ventures (P/PV) set out to conduct a random assignment evaluation to assess whether sector-focused programs could in fact increase the earnings of low-income, disadvantaged workers and job seekers.