When it comes to investing public dollars in workforce-development programs, there’s good news and bad news.
First, the bad news: “Most social programs, unfortunately, are found not to produce the hoped-for effects when rigorously evaluated,” said Shrutika Sabarwal, a policy manager with the private investment fund Arnold Ventures, during NCSL’s “State Options for Scaling Evidence-Based Workforce Solutions” webinar in March.
The good news is there are exceptions. Researchers have identified several publicly funded workforce programs that perform as expected, yielding higher annual earnings for participants, reduced duration of unemployment insurance claims and other important results for individuals and states.
“Fortunately, there are some programs that have been shown to improve important life outcomes—and policymakers can rely on them to ensure that public funding is invested in programs most likely to achieve positive results,” Sabarwal said.
Evidence-Based Workforce Solutions
NCSL published a three-part series in February highlighting state options for using American Rescue Plan Act funding to support evidence-based workforce solutions.
Case in point: Participants offered access to Per Scholas, a New York City-based employment and training program for low-income workers in the information technology sector, had increased earnings of 14% to 30%—or approximately $4,000-$6,000—two to six years after assignment in the program, compared with a control group.
And Nevada’s Reemployment and Eligibility Assessment program, which delivers personalized case management for people seeking unemployment insurance, has resulted in better earnings for participants and net savings to the government.
Under Nevada’s mandatory program, new unemployment insurance claimants meet one-on-one with a trained worker at one of the state’s one-stop career centers. During the visit, the staffer reviews eligibility for services, provides labor market information, develops a reemployment plan and offers other customized help such as resume assistance and job training referrals.
While most states, territories and Washington, D.C., run such U.S. Department of Labor-funded reemployment programs, researchers find the features of Nevada’s program contribute to better outcomes for individuals and the state. As such, it’s rated as an evidence-based workforce development program in various research clearinghouses.
Nevada’s approach, along with other evidence-based strategies highlighted in NCSL’s latest publication and webinar, can offer a template for other states.
Faced with one of the highest unemployment rates in the nation, New Mexico’s Legislative Finance Committee examined the state’s post-pandemic workforce development needs in a 2020 policy report. It noted that Nevada’s approach has effectively reduced the length of time individuals receive unemployment insurance while generating savings to the state. Based on the finance committee’s report, the New Mexico Legislature dedicated $5 million in its 2021 budget toward evidence-based reemployment case management.
“The intent is to move money to programs likely to work so that we’re moving the needle,” Jon Courtney, the finance committee’s deputy director, said.
Using ARPA to Fund Workforce Solutions
Policymakers can leverage American Rescue Plan funds to both address their most immediate workforce challenges and equip workers with the skills needed to thrive in high-demand fields, such as information technology, manufacturing and skilled trades.
Federal guidance encourages states, territories and other jurisdictions to invest funds in evidence-based programs and practices, such as those listed above. States can use these time-limited funds for discrete costs, such as data analysis and collection, program evaluations, and improvements to data and technology infrastructure.
Interested in learning more about how states are using evidence to guide funding decisions? NCSL’s “Investing in What Works” series highlights how New Mexico and other states are scaling evidence-based workforce solutions, evaluating existing workforce development programs, and partnering with researchers and other stakeholders to evaluate programs and build evidence capacity.
Landon Jacquinot is a policy analyst and Kristine Goodwin is an associate director in NCSL’s Employment, Labor and Retirement Program.