About the Study

The career pathways approach to workforce development emerged to help less educated workers advance to better paying jobs by earning in-demand postsecondary credentials. The approach involves articulated steps of education, training, and employment within an industry sector, combined with other services, to support participant success. In 2018, the Chief Evaluation Office (CEO) partnered with the Employment and Training Administration (ETA) to fund contractor Abt Associates to conduct the Career Pathways Descriptive and Analytical project, which included a portfolio of three studies: a meta-analysis on the impacts of career pathways program approaches; a longitudinal career trajectories and occupational transitions study; and an exploratory machine learning study. Each study fills important gaps in the evidence base.

For the project’s Meta-Analysis, researchers summarized the results of 46 impact evaluations of programs which included elements of the career pathways approach. The programs examined in those studies—managed by the Department of Labor, Department of Health and Human Services, and the Department of Education, among others—were diverse across a range of dimensions, including what they offered, how they provided those offerings, who they served, and their local contexts. The meta-analysis leveraged available evaluation data to quantify causal and correlational relationships across programs and study designs.

The Career Trajectories and Occupational Transitions Study aimed to understand workers’ career trajectories and transitions as they occur in the labor market, for many sectors and occupations. Researchers used data from four large nationally representative longitudinal surveys, as well as licensed data on occupational transitions from online career profiles, to examine workers’ career paths and wages. Of note, the study identifies shared characteristics of “launchpad” occupations—or occupations from which workers go on to experience higher-than-average wage growth—across sectors. Click here to see the interactive Career Trajectories and Occupational Transitions Dashboard.

Finally, the exploratory Machine Learning Study examined the use machine learning approaches to synthesize a large body of career pathways implementation program data. It provides insights into the potential uses of this powerful tool and its evolving legal, computing, and cost environment.

This Department of Labor-funded study was a result of the annual learning agenda process. It contributes to the growing labor evidence base to inform employment and training programs and policies and addresses Department strategic goals and priorities.

Download the summary


Tableau Dashboard


More About the Career Pathways Descriptive and Analytical Project

Project Duration: 36 months

Contract End Date: September 2021

Contractor: Abt Associates

For More Information: ChiefEvaluationOffice@dol.gov

The Department of Labor’s (DOL) Chief Evaluation Office (CEO) sponsors independent evaluations and research, primarily conducted by external, third-party contractors in accordance with the Department of Labor Evaluation Policy. CEO’s research development process includes extensive technical review at the design, data collection and analysis stage, including: external contractor review and OMB review and approval of data collection methods and instruments per the Paperwork Reduction Act (PRA), Institutional Review Board (IRB) review to ensure studies adhere to the highest ethical standards, review by academic peers (e.g., Technical Working Groups), and inputs from relevant DOL agency and program officials and CEO technical staff. Final reports undergo an additional independent expert technical review and a review for Section 508 compliance prior to publication. The resulting reports represent findings from this independent research and do not represent DOL positions or policies.