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Descriptive and Analytical Career Pathways Project


  • Career pathways strategies’ rapid growth requires more evidence about effectiveness.
  • Abt conducted three studies to expand the field’s knowledge.
  • Studies assessed education and employment effects and wage trajectories.
The Challenge

Over the last 30 years, adults in the United States with a high school education or less have experienced stagnating wages and relatively high unemployment, while those with postsecondary credentials enjoyed economic gains (Autor, 2015; Carnevale et al., 2016). The career pathways approach to workforce development emerged to help less-educated workers advance to better paying jobs by earning in-demand postsecondary credentials. State and local interest in the career pathways approach has expanded in recent years, in part due to a focus on it in the 2014 Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act.

The Approach

To respond to the need for more career pathways information and evidence, the U.S. Department of Labor  Chief Evaluation Office, in collaboration with the Employment and Training Administration, contracted with Abt Global to conduct the Descriptive & Analytical Career Pathways Project. The project’s purpose was to advance the evidence base in the career pathways field by drawing on existing data to address key research gaps.

The Results

The project included three studies that drew on existing data to address evidence gaps in the field. The project’s meta-analysis found career pathways programs overall:

  • Greatly increased educational progress as measured by credential receipt (by 155 percent)
  • Increased employment in targeted industries substantially (by 72 percent) but raised overall employment by much less (9 percent)
  • Didn’t meaningfully affect medium/long-term earnings

The study of career trajectories and occupational transitions found:

  • Entrants to mid-level “knowledge” occupations such as information technology earn more per hour after 10 years than those who enter other kinds of mid-level occupations. Entrants to mid-level occupations that emphasize transferrable skills such as problem solving and two-way communication earn more per hour after 10 years than those who enter mid-level occupations that do not emphasize those skills.
  • Changing occupational clusters is associated with greater wage growth than remaining in the same cluster for ten years.
  • Among entrants to 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.


Evidence Coffee Break Video Series:

Video #1: How Well Has The Career Pathways Approach Worked? 
This video reviews the results of a meta-analysis of career pathways evaluations that examined 1) whether career pathways programs have increased participants’ educational progress and helped them to find employment and earn higher wages and 2) what traits characterize more effective career pathways programs.

Video #2: Launchpad Occupations And Why They Matter For Career Pathways Programs 
This video reviews the results of the Career Trajectories and Occupational Transitions (CTOT) study, which examined career advancement for workers in mid-level occupations, including which occupations lead to higher wage growth (launchpad occupations) for these workers, what characteristics distinguish launchpads from other occupations, and how career trajectories differ for workers of different backgrounds and experiences.

Video #3: Career Advancement From Mid-Level Occupations For Women And People Of Color 
This video reviews findings from the Career Trajectories and Occupational Transitions study explorations of career advancement for women and people of color working in mid-level occupations, which found significant differences in wage growth over time for these workers and considered implications for practice.

Video #4: Evidence-Based Insights For Career Pathways And Other Employment And Training Programs
This video considers actionable implications that can be drawn from across the studies in the Career Pathways Descriptive and Analytical project, focusing specifically on implications related to program effectiveness and influential program characteristics, career advancement, and equity for women and people of color.