Sector-specific job training

Strategy overview

  • Industry-specific career training: Sector-specific training programs typically prepare young adults (roughly 18-30 years old) for in-demand careers with high income potential. Many specialize in rapidly growing fields like IT, green technology, and financial services, while others are tailored to meet community needs in undersupplied fields, like construction, manufacturing, and nursing. Most programs offer a combination of coursework, soft-skills training, and professional experience (in the form of an apprenticeship, internship, or job placement service). Training programs vary significantly in length; some may run for 8 weeks, while others are a full year.
  • Developing participants’ soft skills: Programs often provide participants with training in non-technical skills required for employment, like conflict resolution, time management, and critical thinking. Having these soft skills can improve participants’ employment prospects and their ability to navigate the workplace.
  • Low or no cost to students: Programs are typically offered at no or a low cost, with public investment, private donations, and subsidies from partner-employers covering student costs. Many programs require a formal application process and can be selective depending on enrollment capacity; criteria may include age, having a high school diploma, and the ability to make a full-time commitment to the program.
  • Earning industry-recognized credentials: Upon completion of sector-skill training programs such as registered apprenticeships, participants often receive specialized credentials. In some cases, this may include a required certificate or license to operate within a certain field; in less regulated fields like data analytics or project management, the credential may serve as a recognized symbol of competency.
  • Supplemental supports to address barriers: Some programs include additional supports and services designed to help participants overcome structural barriers to employment. These can include weekly transit stipends, communal closets for business clothing, and generalized professional development (i.e. resume writing, interviewing, etc.).
Target Population
Adults and families, Students enrolled in post-secondary education
Key Stakeholders
Mayor or County Executive's Office, Workforce Development Board, Employers and Industry Groups, Nonprofit Partners, Career and Technical Education Programs (e.g., community colleges), Program Evaluation Team

What evidence supports this strategy?

Sector-specific training programs have been evaluated by multiple RCTs and a comprehensive meta-analysis. Results from evidence-based programs have consistently shown statistically significant increases in employment and earnings for program participants.

  • A 2022 research synthesis found that sector-specific employment programs lead to substantial increases in earnings, training and career services received, and attainment of occupational credentials and certificates.

  • A 2021 meta-analysis of sector-skill training found that the career pathways approach is associated with improved educational, employment, and short-term earnings outcomes.

  • A 2012 longitudinal study of registered apprenticeships in 10 states found that participants had employment rates 8.6 percentage points higher after both six and nine years than non-participants, while average earnings were $6,595 after six years, and $5,839 higher after nine years.

Is this strategy right for my community?

Providing sector-specific job training has been shown to improve outcomes predictive of upward mobility. These outcomes, identified by the Urban Institute, are employment opportunities, jobs paying living wages, opportunities for income, and financial security.

City and county leaders can assess local conditions for each of these outcomes using the metrics below, identified by the Urban Institute. This assessment can be used to determine whether this strategy is appropriate for their community. (Note: these metrics are a starting point for self-assessment and are not intended to be comprehensive.)

All cities and counties with populations over 75,000 can receive a customized data sheet here.

  • Measuring the opportunity for living wage employment: Examine the ratio of pay on an average job to the cost of living. These data are available from the Bureau of Labor and Statistics’ Quarterly Census of Employment and Wages.

  • Measuring opportunities for income in your community: Examine the household income at 20th, 50th, and 80th percentiles. These data are available from the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey.

  • Measuring financial security in your community: Examine the share of households with debt in collections. These data are available from the Urban Institute’s Debt in America website.

Best practices in implementation

  • Solicit feedback from local employers: Sector-specific job training programs should be closely aligned with the needs of local employers and the regional economy. Program designers should engage with local business leaders, chambers of commerce, and major employers to identify what skills and jobs are expected to be in demand. These groups can also help shape the training portion of the program to ensure that it aligns with the needs of current and future jobs. This process can create a win-win situation, wherein participants are more competitive in the local job market and employers have access to a better trained workforce.
  • Screen applicants upfront: Sector-specific employment programs typically screen applicants for motivation, basic math and literacy skills, and ability to commit to program requirements. By selecting for applicants most likely to benefit from the program, program operators ensure resources are used most effectively.
  • Offer comprehensive supports: Program participants typically face a range of human capital, social, and economic barriers to attaining higher-wage employment. Effective sector-specific employment programs often provide participants with comprehensive support services to address these challenges. Examples include job placement and retention services, counseling, and financial support.
  • Cultivate vocal support from community leaders: Local public, nonprofit, and business leaders can play a critical role in the successful implementation of a sector-specific skills training program. Local leaders can use their positions to bring attention and support to the program. Even more importantly, leaders can demonstrate and amplify their commitment to the program by hiring program participants, providing feedback on the curriculum, and promoting the program throughout the community.
  • Develop partnerships: Consider partnering with local community college and community-based organizations that regularly engage with young adults. Doing so may allow for shared recruiting and marketing efforts; many programs also partner with postsecondary institutions for classroom space and, in some cases, for professors to teach program courses.

Evidence-based sector-specific job training models

Connects adults to demand-driven, job-specific training and career and technical education
Stable and healthy families High-quality employment
Feature small learning communities in low-income high schools, combining academic and technical or career curricula
High school graduation Post-secondary enrollment and graduation High-quality employment
Career and academic support service programs that recruit and train students who are typically underrepresented in health careers
Post-secondary enrollment and graduation High-quality employment
Community and technical college–based program providing demand-driven occupational training
High-quality employment
Sector-specific training and support in areas including manufacturing, transportation, accounting, IT, logistics, and health care
High-quality employment
Employer-informed, tuition-free technology job training, mentoring, and job matching
High-quality employment
Sector-based education and training for high-demand jobs in health services, business systems and IT, and maintenance and repair professions
High-quality employment
Industry-specific on-the-job training, technical instruction, and industry-recognized certification for high-demand jobs
High-quality employment
Industry-led workforce intermediary that provides short-term training, case management, and job placement assistance
High-quality employment
Prepares young adults for careers in information technology and financial operations
High-quality employment
Provides job training in construction and other high-demand employment sectors
High school graduation High-quality employment