Helping Adult Learners Find Careers and Economic Opportunity

Posted August 14, 2019
By the Annie E. Casey Foundation
Job training for adults who need support connecting to the workforce

Photo credit: Chiaki Kawajiri for the Annie E. Casey Foundation

While most jobs require some col­lege or post­sec­ondary train­ing, near­ly 23 mil­lion Amer­i­cans old­er than age 25 lack a high school degree or equiv­a­lent credential.

The good news? Career path­way pro­grams — which com­bine adult learn­ing and job train­ing — can help.

On aver­age, career path­way par­tic­i­pants are employed, retained and paid at high­er rates than their sim­i­lar­ly edu­cat­ed peers. Addi­tion­al­ly, they acquire more cre­den­tials and col­lege cred­its, accord­ing to What Works for Adult Learn­ers, an Annie E. Casey Foun­da­tion-fund­ed report.

Down­load What Works for Adult Learners

These find­ings — com­piled by the work­force-focused non­prof­it JFF — are root­ed in a review of 16 career path­way pro­grams nationwide.

Despite deploy­ing dif­fer­ent approach­es, most of these pro­grams offer indi­vid­u­al­ized aca­d­e­m­ic and career coun­sel­ing to help par­tic­i­pants — many of whom were job seek­ers of col­or and low-income indi­vid­u­als — attain a high school diplo­ma, earn a spe­cial­ized cre­den­tial or sharp­en basic pro­fes­sion­al skills.

What Works for Adult Learn­ers shares rec­om­men­da­tions for state pol­i­cy­mak­ers, edu­ca­tion­al lead­ers, employ­ers and oth­ers seek­ing to estab­lish or expand sim­i­lar pro­grams. Advice includes:

  • equip­ping state sys­tem lead­ers and prac­ti­tion­ers with advanced labor-mar­ket analy­ses so they can tai­lor their course­work and train­ing options to sat­is­fy employ­er needs;
  • using a fed­er­al pro­vi­sion — called abil­i­ty to ben­e­fit” — that pro­vides finan­cial aid to stu­dents who demon­strate com­pe­ten­cy to attend col­lege despite not hav­ing a high school diploma;
  • lever­ag­ing local and nation­al learn­ing net­works to iden­ti­fy and advance promis­ing practices;
  • cus­tomiz­ing inte­grat­ed train­ing for under­rep­re­sent­ed adults, such as Eng­lish-lan­guage learn­ers, indi­vid­u­als return­ing from incar­cer­a­tion and those who are devel­op­men­tal­ly disabled;
  • redesign­ing career path­way pro­grams to pro­mote careers — not just entry-lev­el job placements.

The report also calls for addi­tion­al research on career path­way pro­grams, includ­ing eval­u­a­tions that exam­ine how out­comes may change due dif­fer­ences in a participant’s race, gen­der and income level.

There’s clear evi­dence that career path­way pro­grams are effec­tive at clos­ing skill and wage gaps by prepar­ing adult learn­ers for work­place suc­cess — which, in turn, helps them sta­bi­lize their fam­i­lies’ finan­cial futures,” says Irene Lee, direc­tor of fam­i­ly eco­nom­ic suc­cess at the Casey Foun­da­tion. We hope this report acts as a guide and encour­ages greater invest­ment at the nation­al, state and local lev­els to make adult skill devel­op­ment more preva­lent, effi­cient and effective.”

Casey fund­ed three of the pro­gram eval­u­a­tions reviewed for the report:

  1. Accel­er­at­ing Con­nec­tions to Employ­ment Vol­ume 1: Final Eval­u­a­tion Report
  2. The Arkansas Career Path­ways Ini­tia­tive: Phase One Research Results; and
  3. Esca­lat­ing Gains: Project QUEST’s Sec­toral Strat­e­gy Pays Off

Read JFF’s Report

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