Joel Luedtke is program director at the Jay and Rose Phillips Family Foundation of Minnesota. The Improve Group recently finished an evaluation of the Foundation’s Phillips Sectoral Employment Initiative (PSEI). From 2011 to 2016, PSEI provided multifaceted support to a cohort of organizations that offer industry-focused job training services to low-income adults in the Twin Cities. Grantees each received $60,000-$90,000 per year, consulting support, and access to 1-2 fulltime AmeriCorps*VISTA members. PSEI aimed to help grow and improve these “sectoral employment” programs so that this evidence-based approach to workforce development could reach more low-income job-seekers. Grantees were the International Institute of Minnesota, Project for Pride in Living, Resource, Inc. (now Avivo), and Summit Academy OIC. Joel shares successes, lessons learned, and remaining questions in a guest column.
Evaluation of PSEI
When we embarked on PSEI, its purpose seemed clear and urgent. The Great Recession had left tens of thousands of Minnesotans jobless. Communities of color felt this calamity most acutely. But our local job market had begun to grow again, and some industry sectors were already talking about workforce shortages.
By building the capacity of experienced nonprofit job training providers, the Foundation felt it could help expand a model with a proven record of connecting low-income adults to good jobs in growing career fields. We also saw an opportunity to deploy philanthropic resources to spark innovation and growth in a field that was heavily reliant on restrictive government funding streams.
We’re pleased that the PSEI Final Report indicates that many of our hopes have been realized: Our grantees grew to serve more people, their participants saw strong growth in their incomes and rates of employment, and employers benefited from a growing pool of high quality job candidates. Still, questions remain.
At its heart, PSEI was a capacity-building effort—and we succeeded in this. The Improve Group’s evaluation showed that PSEI program enrollment increased over the five years of the initiative, and not just in longstanding programs. PSEI grantees used capacity-building resources to target new industry sectors and specializations. For example, Summit Academy OIC added plumbing and sheet metal specializations to its core construction training program. Most of the new program offerings created during PSEI continue at grantee organizations even though Foundation funding ended in 2016.
Increased earnings – but is it enough?
Program completers saw a big jump in earnings, and their incomes continued to grow over time. Participants’ earnings grew from $3,659 a quarter to $5,521 per quarter—a boost of 50%. Still, participants were far from earning a living wage. For example, the average participant’s median hourly wage increased to about $13, while the living wage of the average participant’s household is at least $24.
Career pathway, or one-step journey?
In recent years, the term “career pathway” has been applied to any effort that prepares job-seekers for specific careers. In almost all cases, the goal is an entry-level position in that field. Ideally, candidates also earn an industry-recognized credential like certification as a nursing assistant or computer network technician. Scant investment is made in advancing individuals past that initial position and/or credential. The “pathway” presumably becomes real as individuals pursue better jobs and more training, and as employers support these moves. However, the PSEI data show that entry-level job seekers don’t advance their wages much after their initial post-training bump. It seems like—at least in the first three years after training—their career “pathway” is a one-step journey.
Check out all The Improve Group’s findings in the PSEI Final Report.