Sectoral Strategies for Low-Income Workers: Lessons from the Field

M. Conway
A. Blair
S. L. Dawson
L. Dworak-Munoz
Author(s) Organizational Affiliation
The Aspen Institute
Publication Year
Resource Type
Number of Pages

This research on sector strategies emphasizes the importance of a systems approach to workforce development that targets a specific industry or cluster of occupations, has intervention through an organization, supports workers to improve employment-related skills, meets the needs of employers, and creates change in the labor market that is beneficial to both employer and worker. This publication provides the background for the need for sectoral strategies and also provides case studies on various programs across the United States that demonstrate the various strategies being used to provide new opportunities for low-wage workers in local labor markets. It reviews the goals and strategies of sector initiatives and how this approach can benefit both the employer and the worker. It examines new programs and experienced programs through the case studies. The accumulation of data for this report began in 1995 with another Aspen Institute publication, Jobs and the Urban Poor: Privately Initiated Sector Strategies. This research will be of value to workforce professionals, policymakers and funders.

What the experts say

This resource is a “must-read” for leaders (program directors, staff developers, researchers) as well as policymakers in workforce development. The resource is well written, documenting years of research to support a broad view of the systems that affect workforce development. Without such a perspective, workforce development efforts are often short-lived without becoming institutionalized. The resource helps readers look analytically at their system and create “win-win” relationships that endure over time. This resource may be of value to the field of adult education when considering sectoral initiatives, because it has a broad, organizing framework (three spheres: industry practices, educational and training infrastructure, public policy), provides some definition of basic terms, and conveys quite a bit of information in one document (although the text-heavy format is a bit daunting). It may be of value to adult educators already working in a sectoral program, because it does not minimize potential problems but names them and gives examples of solutions other programs have developed. The resource emphasizes that there is no “one size fits all” solution. The many case studies from various parts of the country help readers see various of possibilities for systemic development. Table 1 on page 27 also clearly lists the three spheres listed above with objectives, sample strategies, and sector initiative examples. Readers could easily read more by locating the appropriate reference at the back of the document.

Partnerships are particularly important in reaching and supporting disadvantaged workers. Although coalitions are very important, it is the key individuals that make them work. The resource helps inform these individuals so that they can think broadly about their work. One key individual recommended in the resource is a case manager who can assist disadvantaged workers juggle work and family obligations.

The resource is very readable. At the beginning of each chapter Chapter Highlights are provided to stimulate readers’ background knowledge and curiosity as well as guide their reading. At the end of each chapter a Summaryand Summary Points are provided. Footnotes provide citations to the research studies that are described, and concluding references provide more complete information. The Conclusion summarizes the “take-away” messages as well as considers the future of workforce development for low-income workers.

Methods the resource used to collect and analyze the data for the research: Aspen Institute researchers tracked long-term outcomes of workers in sector programs. The information has been summarized in case studies. Researchers spoke with 60 workforce program leaders, visited 13 sector initiatives, and conducted an e-mail survey gathering responses from 227 organizations that use an industry-specific approach.