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Building Better Pathways: An Analysis of Career Trajectories and Occupational Transitions

Deena Schwartz, Andrew Clarkwest, Marissa Hashizume, Tresa Kappil, and Julie Strawn Abt Global


February 1, 2022

To help inform career pathways programs, Abt Global studied the career trajectories and occupational transitions of workers in mid-level occupations (those that require more than a high school diploma but not a college degree). The study for the Department of Labor analyzed the characteristics of occupations that served as launch pads for higher-than-average wage increases over time. The study also explored whether workers’ backgrounds and experience affected occupations’ effectiveness as launch pads.

The study found:

  • Workers who enter occupations in “knowledge” clusters such as information technology and management/finance see the highest average wage growth
  • Transferable skills such as problem solving are associated with higher than average wage growth
  • Frequent job changes was associated with lower wage growth, but changing to a job in a different occupational cluster was associated with greater wage growth Even when starting from the same occupation at similar wages, women experience lower wage growth than men do, and Hispanic and Black workers experience lower wage growth than White non-Hispanic workers do
  • When they make an occupational transition, women and Black and Hispanic workers are less likely to advance to higher-level jobs and more likely to stay in the same occupational cluster

The study recommended that programs:

  • Focus training more on strong occupational launchpads for wage growth
  • Build participants’ broader transferable skills
  • Consider barriers facing demographic groups