Inside the Black Box: What Makes Workforce Development Programs Successful?
The workforce development system in Chicago and nationwide is multifaceted and includes public and private training providers that work with individuals of all ages and abilities. Broadly, the programs within the system aim to train their participants while preparing them to (re)enter the workforce, graduate them from the programs, and place them into jobs. Some programs experience greater success at these goals and have more lasting effects than others. To help identify why these programs are more successful at placing people into employment amid such variety is critical, especially during times of high unemployment when the tasks of finding and retaining employment are highly competitive. This study looks at several successful programs in Chicago for adults; it attempts to understand the factors that may explain why they achieve success of different types, and how these factors may be quantified or measured to help improve the system. The report assesses the influence of a range of factors, from individual participant characteristics, program and practice elements, provider organizational aspects, and the broader set of external relationships, on achievement of successful outcomes for workforce development programs. Intersecting with all of these factors is the role data and outcomes play in how programs achieve and understand their success. Specifically, the study aims to identify the influences within each of these levels that lead to programs’ success, how and if these factors are currently measured, and recommends improvements to the data collection methods and data system that currently exist within the workforce development system.