Policy Proposals

Using Data to Improve the Performance of Workforce Training

April 17, 2013
Education, Employment & Wages

The Problem

Over their lifetimes millions of U.S. workers seek out career and technical training with the aim of transforming their careers and boosting their earnings. Due in part to a lack of information about which programs would be most beneficial—and a dearth of situationally specific guidance that speaks to their individual circumstances—many pursue less-than-ideal training programs that do not help them realize their goals.

The Proposal

A federal grant competition should be implemented for states to build systems to gather state-based data on employment trends, workforce skill gaps, and the effectiveness of training programs; the information should then be presented in accessible ways. These new training program report cards, plus offering the services of career counselors, will arm workers seeking training to make better-informed career-development decisions.


Training programs provide opportunities for low-income individuals to qualify for better jobs and enter the middle class. These programs also provide opportunities for workers who lost long-held jobs to qualify for new positions that can offset a substantial fraction of their earnings losses. Although millions of workers seek out career and technical training options in the pursuit of financial security and better lives, many ultimately choose programs that do not suit their needs. Some individuals do not complete their training programs, some find that their new skills do not match the needs of local employers, while many others, uncertain of the outcomes, hesitate to invest time and money into training programs altogether. Too many workers are making poor choices in training, but fortunately, this problem can be resolved by helping workers select programs that they are more likely to complete and that are more likely to raise their earnings potential. This paper proposes a state-by-state solution, relying on a competitive framework to encourage states to help prospective trainees make better-informed choices. The plan will increase the return on training investments by developing the data and measures necessary to provide the information prospective trainees need, by presenting the information in user-friendly “report cards,” by providing help for prospective trainees to use the information effectively, and by creating incentives for states to implement permanent information systems once they prove cost-effective. Using a mix of online systems coupled with assistance from career counselors, the ultimate goal of this proposal is to provide unambiguous evidence about how information systems can improve training outcomes for prospective trainees. With the earnings divide between skilled and unskilled workers at a historic high, it is imperative that we raise overall workforce skills in order to enhance America’s competitiveness and ensure economic growth for all Americans.