Ahead of the Curve: Health Care Career Pathway Programs Meet Their Goal a Year Early

By Manuela Ekowo

The career pathway approach, prominently articulated in the Workforce Innovation Opportunity Act (WIOA) and utilized in the Health Profession Opportunity Grants (HPOG) program, continues to show promise as a way to help low-income, lower-skilled workers access education and training that lead to stable employment. New data on HPOG’s career pathways, which focus on health-related employment, reveal high rates of persistence, completion, and job attainment.

Since 2010, HPOG programs have provided education and training services to Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) recipients and other low-income individuals to prepare them for high-demand health care professions. HPOG’s Year Four Annual Report notes a steady yearly increase in the number of enrollees completing at least one health care training course. This descriptive report of HPOG participants lays the groundwork for future reports that will analyze more fully the impact of the programs and program features on participant outcomes.

According to cumulative data, HPOG has already enrolled over 32,000 participants across 23 states—exceeding its 5-year target of 30,000. About half (15) of the participating states have already met their individual 5-year targets, while 10 states have enrolled over 80 percent of their target. Many of the individuals who enroll in HPOG career pathways face severe economic challenges and almost two-thirds identified as a person of color. Almost half of participants reported a household income of $9,999 or less, and more than half were receiving food assistance under the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). Additionally, close to 60 percent had no prior college experience. While TANF recipients are an HPOG target recruitment population, they have made up just 16 percent of total enrollees to date.

These economic barriers make support services critical, especially for the 64 percent of participants with one or more children. HPOG’s unusually rich supports include: case management; counseling; financial assistance with tuition, books, and fees; assistance with transportation or child care; housing support; social and family support; and cultural programming. Almost all HPOG participants received one or more of these support services.

Data show that this investment is paying off with deeper engagement and higher completion rates. According to the report, 90 percent of participants engaged in pre-training activities, including orientations to health care careers, basic skills education, and prerequisite courses. Eighty-two percent of enrollees participated in a health care training course, with 65 percent completing the course by the end of year four. Further, over 75 percent of participants engaged in employment assistance.

At program exit, close to three-quarters of those who completed a health care training course were employed; of those employed, 62 percent had jobs in health care. The positions most commonly obtained were nursing assistant, aide, orderly, attendant, medical records & health information technician, and licensed practical and vocational nurses. More than half (54 percent) of all participants ever enrolled in HPOG were still active during year four— preparing for or participating in training or accessing post-training services. This high retention rate strongly demonstrates the effectiveness of career pathways that integrate education, training, and supports.

CLASP has been a leading proponent of career pathways. Since 2012, we have facilitated the Alliance for Quality Career Pathways, which released last summer Shared Vision, Strong Systems: The Alliance for Quality Career Pathways Framework Version 1.0 The framework includes criteria and indicators that define quality career pathway systems, as well as a set of shared performance metrics for measuring and managing their success. The Alliance framework outlines features and functions of quality career pathways, such as well-connected and transparent education, training, credentials, and support services. HPOG’s success is a result of embracing this approach. CLASP continues to inform the national conversation on career pathways and provide leadership in building a shared vision and knowledge base, especially as it relates to implementing WIOA.

The Administration for Children & Families’ Office of Planning, Research, and Evaluation is currently researching and evaluating the success of HPOG; its findings will be published in the near future. However, states are already seeing education and training success for career pathway participants, and many more will be ramping up their efforts to implement career pathways in accordance with WIOA. HPOG’s Year Four Annual Report adds to the growing body of evidence that career pathways effectively train workers to succeed in today’s economy.