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Targeted Investments Support Expansion of Evidence-Based Workforce Training Models

June 14, 2023 3-minute read
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For many learners from low-income backgrounds, short-term training programs can offer a flexible, affordable, and accessible pathway to employment and upward mobility. These training programs provide a streamlined pathway through postsecondary education and a route to good, in-demand jobs. If these programs are effective in leading to good employment opportunities and can be scaled to serve and support diverse learners, they have the potential to serve greater numbers of learners from low-income backgrounds across the country.

Ascendium has made several grants to workforce training organizations to support the expansion of evidence-based models that provide a pathway to a better job. A grant to Merit America last fall supported the scaling of its skills training and career placement programs in IT Support, Data Analytics, and Java Web Development. Grants to Year Up and Per Scholas followed, further supporting learners interested in high-quality training for IT career pathways that can lead to a good job.

Most recently, Project QUEST received a grant from Ascendium to expand its evidence-based career training and job coaching services to more learners from low-income backgrounds in San Antonio, Texas. Propel America also received a grant to grow their jobs-first higher education model that allows young adults to participate in accelerated, credit-bearing training to prepare for jobs in healthcare. Both grants spotlight examples of short-term training models that provide opportunities for quick skill acquisition, with the organizations often working directly with an employer to place the learner into an in-demand job following the training.

These investments are unique in that they bridge education and employment systems, with many of the programs explicitly seeking to diversify who gains access to good jobs in fields such as healthcare and tech. They also approach creating systemic change through integrated partnerships that are learner and worker centered. These partnerships benefit both the learner and the employer. The learner acquires the skills needed for an available job and the employer benefits by having someone with the right skills, often defined by them, to fill the in-demand job.

By identifying and testing this type of diverse pathway, Ascendium, and its partners, can better understand what elements of short-term training programs work best to ensure that learners from low-income backgrounds gain access to good jobs with living wages.

“This series of recent grants to proven and promising workforce training organizations is significant not only for its scope — nearly $25 million in funding the past year — but also for the diversity of models and approaches receiving support,” said Carolynn Lee, deputy director of education grantmaking. “These investments will enable our trusted partners to serve thousands more learners and generate new knowledge about what works, for whom, and under what conditions.”

Additionally, Ascendium is funding evaluations of some of the programs as part of our strategic focus on generating more data and evidence about the long-term impact of these strategies. These efforts will examine the comprehensive supports and career connections these programs offer and how they contribute to upward mobility. By supporting rigorous evaluations of short-term training models that directly reach learners from low-income backgrounds, we hope to contribute to large-scale change in postsecondary and workforce training systems.