Project QUEST: Workforce Development That Works

Posted June 16, 2017, By the Annie E. Casey Foundation

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A mul­ti­year eval­u­a­tion of Project QUEST, a work­force train­ing pro­gram in San Anto­nio, shows that sec­tor strate­gies — an approach to increas­ing jobs and career oppor­tu­ni­ties that the Casey Foun­da­tion has invest­ed in for the last two decades — help low-income job seek­ers devel­op mean­ing­ful careers that lift them out of poverty.

Grad­u­ates of the pro­gram saw large increas­es in their pay over time. Aver­age annu­al earn­ings grew from $11,400 for those enter­ing the pro­gram to more than $38,000 by the final year of the ran­dom­ized con­trolled tri­al. A report on the eval­u­a­tion, Esca­lat­ing Gains: Project QUEST’s Sec­toral Strat­e­gy Pays Off, notes that par­tic­i­pants who did not com­plete the pro­gram still earned high­er hourly wages than indi­vid­u­als in the com­par­i­son group.

As low-skill man­u­fac­tur­ing jobs began dis­ap­pear­ing in the 1980s, two com­mu­ni­ty-based orga­ni­za­tions — COPS (Com­mu­ni­ties Orga­nized for Pub­lic Ser­vice) and Metro Alliance — found­ed QUEST to help San Anto­nio res­i­dents gain skills to meet employ­ers’ needs in grow­ing sec­tors of the local econ­o­my. With sup­port includ­ing assis­tance with tuition, trans­porta­tion and child care expens­es, men­tal health ser­vices and job place­ment assis­tance, the pro­gram helps par­tic­i­pants com­plete occu­pa­tion­al train­ing at com­mu­ni­ty col­leges, obtain cer­ti­fi­ca­tions and get and keep fam­i­ly-sup­port­ing jobs. To date, QUEST has served more than 6,000 peo­ple, with 87% com­plet­ing the program.

Unlike oth­er stud­ies that typ­i­cal­ly track out­comes for two years, the rig­or­ous QUEST eval­u­a­tion fol­lowed pro­gram par­tic­i­pants for six. It began in 2005 and focused on indi­vid­u­als pur­su­ing careers in the health-care sec­tor. About 74% of par­tic­i­pants were Lati­no women with chil­dren, and near­ly half had attend­ed col­lege in the past but had not earned a degree. QUEST, which the Foun­da­tion sup­port­ed direct­ly for sev­er­al years, not only increased par­tic­i­pants’ earn­ings, the study finds, it helped grad­u­ates reach the mid­dle class. Accord­ing to the authors, few work­force devel­op­ment pro­grams have cre­at­ed this kind of mobility.

We are excit­ed about these find­ings for sev­er­al rea­sons,” said Irene Lee, who leads the Foundation’s fam­i­ly eco­nom­ic suc­cess work. Not only do they show sig­nif­i­cant gains in earn­ings that did not fade over time, but they demon­strate that sec­tor strate­gies can help ensure a more equi­table dis­tri­b­u­tion of jobs and wealth among com­mu­ni­ties of color.”

Among the evaluation’s oth­er key findings:

  • Job seek­ers ages 2564 and those who entered the pro­gram with a GED saw the great­est increas­es in their earnings.
  • By the end of the eval­u­a­tion peri­od, grad­u­ates’ earn­ings were equiv­a­lent to aver­age mid­dle-class incomes in larg­er, more cost­ly cities — $51,000 in Chica­go, $61,000 in Los Ange­les and $64,000 in Wash­ing­ton, D.C.
  • QUEST par­tic­i­pants who did not grad­u­ate were still more con­sis­tent­ly employed than the con­trol group, and they earned, on aver­age, near­ly $2 more per hour.
  • Pro­gram par­tic­i­pants in the six-year fol­low-up sur­vey report­ed greater finan­cial sta­bil­i­ty than the con­trol group and less dif­fi­cul­ty pay­ing for hous­ing, util­i­ties or food.

Because train­ing takes place through local com­mu­ni­ty col­leges, QUEST’s approach can eas­i­ly be adapt­ed to meet the needs of employ­ers in oth­er sec­tors through­out the coun­try, the report finds.

This eval­u­a­tion is fur­ther proof that sec­tor strate­gies tru­ly are effec­tive,” said Alli­son Ger­ber, a senior asso­ciate who leads the Foundation’s invest­ments in edu­ca­tion, employ­ment and train­ing. We hope these results encour­age both pol­i­cy­mak­ers and work­force prac­ti­tion­ers to explore imple­ment­ing these approach­es at a much larg­er scale in their com­mu­ni­ties, so that more low-income job seek­ers can real­ize the incred­i­ble gains San Anto­nio res­i­dents have.”

In addi­tion to fund­ing this eval­u­a­tion, Casey is sup­port­ing a qual­i­ta­tive study of QUEST par­tic­i­pants’ expe­ri­ences that will be released in 2018.

Read the report

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