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Adult vocational training

Health Factors: Employment
Decision Makers: Educators Employers & Businesses Local Government State Government Federal Government Nonprofit Leaders
Evidence Rating: Scientifically Supported
Population Reach: 10-19% of WI's population
Impact on Disparities: Likely to decrease disparities

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Vocational training for adults supports acquisition of job-specific skills through education and certification programs, also called career and technical education, or on-the-job training. Programs may include job search assistance, personal development resources, and other comprehensive support services (e.g., child care) during training. Some programs provide participants with financial compensation for the duration of their participation. Vocational training programs in the United States usually serve individuals with little job experience or education, individuals who are unemployed, or dislocated workers.

Expected Beneficial Outcomes

Increased earnings
Increased employment
Reduced recidivism

Evidence of Effectiveness

There is strong evidence that vocational training for adults increases employment and earnings among participants, including young adults and unemployed individuals (NBER-Stevens 2015, Heinrich 2013, Heinrich 2013a, NBER-Andersson 2013, Audhoe 2010, Hollenbeck 2009, PPV-Maguire 2010, Hebbar 2006, Mathematica-Schochet 2006, US DOL-Gritz 2001). Vocational training can help dislocated workers regain employment, but does not consistently lead to full wage recovery (Heinrich 2013a, Hollenbeck 2009, Hebbar 2006).

Participants increase employment (Heinrich 2013, PPV-Maguire 2010, Hebbar 2006) and earnings more than non-participating peers following program completion (Heinrich 2013, PPV-Maguire 2010), despite frequent initial reductions in earnings during the training and education period. An assessment of the California community college system’s vocational degree and certificate programs indicates larger increases in earnings among graduates with degrees and certificates in the health care sector than graduates in other fields (NBER-Stevens 2015).

Job Corps, a widely implemented vocational training program for young adults that includes comprehensive support services and financial compensation, appears to increase participants’ earnings, employment, and education two years after program completion (Mathematica-Schochet 2006), especially among those who complete a GED program (US DOL-Gritz 2001). Over the longer term, however, most participants’ earnings are similar to non-participating peers, except for those who were 20-24 years old when they enrolled. Job Corps also appears to reduce arrest and incarceration rates among participants (Mathematica-Schochet 2006).

Comprehensive vocational training programs appear to be more effective than less comprehensive programs; an evaluation of Jobstart, based on the Job Corps model but without comprehensive support services and financial compensation, demonstrates no effects on employment or earnings (YG-Program search). Researchers suggest that program implementers provide workers with structured guidance in training selection, and supportive services within training once they have enrolled. Developing training programs in partnership with local employers is also recommended to ensure workers are trained in in-demand skills (Hamilton-McConnell 2014).

Vocational education and employment programs for individuals who have been incarcerated may reduce recidivism (Bouffard 2000). Stringent state-level work policies implemented with welfare reforms in the 1990s appear to have reduced vocational education and training opportunities for mothers with low incomes and low levels of education (Dave 2011).


United States

Government-sponsored vocational training programs exist throughout the country. The Department of Labor’s (DOL’s) Job Corps has training centers in all 50 states, Washington DC, and Puerto Rico (Job Corps). However, federal appropriations for DOL job training grants have decreased by 40% from 2001 to 2017, and Department of Education grants that support career and technical education in community colleges, technical schools, and high schools have decreased by 34% (CBPP-Reich 2017).


Job Corps has centers in Laona and Milwaukee (Job Corps).

Implementation Resources

Job Corps - Job Corps. A US Department of Labor web site. Accessed on January 10, 2018
US ED-OCTAE - US Department of Education (US ED). Office of Career, Technical, and Adult Education (OCTAE). Accessed on June 9, 2017

Citations - Evidence

Audhoe 2010* - Audhoe SS, Hoving JL, Sluiter JK, Frings-Dresen MHW. Vocational interventions for unemployed: Effects on work participation and mental distress. A systematic review. Journal of Occupational Rehabilitation. 2010;20(1):1-13. Accessed on June 9, 2017
Bouffard 2000* - Bouffard JA, Mackenzie DL, Hickman LJ. Effectiveness of vocational education and employment programs for adult offenders. Journal of Offender Rehabilitation. 2000;31(1-2):1-41. Accessed on June 9, 2017
Dave 2011 - Dave DM, Reichman NE, Corman H, Das D. Effects of welfare reform on vocational education and training. Economics of Education Review. 2011;30(6):1399-1415. Accessed on June 9, 2017
Hamilton-McConnell 2014 - McConnell S, Perez-Johnson I, Berk J. Proposal 9: Providing disadvantaged workers with skills to succeed in the labor market. In: Policies to Address Poverty in America, Harris BH, Kearney MS (eds). The Hamilton Project. Washington, DC: Brookings Institution; 2014:1-13. Accessed on June 9, 2017
Hebbar 2006* - Hebbar L . Vocational training for the unemployed: Its impact on uncommonly served groups. International Journal of Manpower. 2006;27(4):377-395. Accessed on June 9, 2017
Heinrich 2013 - Heinrich CJ, Mueser PR, Troske KR, Jeon KS, Kahvecioglu DC. Do public employment and training programs work? IZA Journal of Labor Economics. 2013;2(1):6. Accessed on June 9, 2017
Heinrich 2013a - Heinrich CJ. Targeting workforce development programs: Who should receive what services? And how much? College Park, MD: University of Maryland School of Public Policy; 2013. Accessed on June 9, 2017
Hollenbeck 2009 - Hollenbeck K. Workforce Investment Act (WIA) net impact estimates and rates of return. Presented at European Commission-Sponsored Meeting, "What the European Social Fund Can Learn from the WIA Experience," Washington, DC. 2009. Accessed on June 9, 2017
Mathematica-Schochet 2006 - Schochet PZ, Burghardt J, Mcconnell S. National Job Corps study and longer-term follow- up study: Impact and benefit-cost findings using survey and summary earnings records data. Princeton: Mathematica Policy Research (MPR); 2006. Accessed on January 10, 2018
NBER-Andersson 2013 - Andersson F, Lane JI. Does federally-funded job training work? Nonexperimental estimates of WIA training impacts using longitudinal data on workers and firms. National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER). 2013: Working Paper 19446. Accessed on June 9, 2017
NBER-Stevens 2015 - Stevens AH, Kurlaender M, Grosz M. Career technical education and labor market outcomes: Evidence from California community colleges. Cambridge, MA: National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER); 2015. Accessed on June 19, 2017
PPV-Maguire 2010 - Maguire S, Freely J, Clymer C, Conway M, Schwartz D. Tuning in to local labor markets: Findings from the sectoral employment impact study. Philadelphia: Public/Private Ventures (PPV); 2010. Accessed on June 9, 2017
US DOL-Gritz 2001 - Gritz RM, Johnson TJ. National Job Corps study: Assessing program effects on earnings for students achieving key program milestones. Washington, DC: US Department of Labor (US DOL); 2001. Accessed on June 9, 2017
YG-Program search - (YG), Interagency Working Group on Youth Programs (IWGYP). Evidence-based program directories: Program directory search. Accessed on June 9, 2017

Citations - Implementation

CBPP-Reich 2017 - Reich D, Cho C. Unmet Needs and the Squeeze on Appropriations: Policymakers Should Continue Bipartisan Sequestration Relief. Washington, DC: Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP); 2017. Accessed on June 19, 2017
Job Corps - Job Corps. A US Department of Labor web site. Accessed on January 10, 2018

Page Last Updated

June 19, 2017

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