Drawing on long-standing policy expertise in both education and R&D, SRI helps nations, regions, and localities evaluate workforce skills and assess training needs. This expertise came into play when the Department of Labor’s Employment and Training Administration (DOLETA) sought technical assistance and support in launching its Career Advancement Account (CAA) demonstration project.
The CAA initiative was launched in eight states in 2007 to encourage access to short-term education and training for high-demand occupations. It provided workers with self-managed tuition accounts of $3,000 to $6,000 for career development. State and local demonstration sites selected to pilot CAAs experienced varying levels of success implementing the demonstration and awarding CAAs.
DOLETA requested technical assistance on the practical structuring and rollout of CAA pilot programs from SRI. Along with its partner DTI Associates, SRI conducted in-state reviews of CAA program structures and processes to identify good practices and best-fit scenarios as well as barriers. The SRI team provided ongoing technical guidance to state and local demonstration sites, using monthly conference calls and collecting and developing a series of implementation and marketing resources on a dedicated website. SRI facilitated dialogue to ensure that successes and good practices were shared across states, and adopted, with site-specific alterations, at other sites. SRI team members also provided one-on-one technical guidance to project managers. As neutral technical consultants, SRI was able to convey questions, concerns, and information between federal-level officers and state and local implementers.
The number of CAAs awarded program-wide grew steadily, from just over 1,000 at the end of June 2007 to nearly 5,000 at the end of September 2008. Some states, such as Indiana and Wyoming, found an immediate demand for their accounts and were able to begin awarding accounts right away. Other states found they needed to adjust target audiences or staffing structures before they were able to recruit suitable CAA candidates.
Early in the demonstration, SRI found that staff members at many sites were unclear on what type of client could benefit from a CAA, which led to reluctance in marketing the product. SRI researched and developed a series of “success stories” of individuals who had taken advantage of the CAA offering. These profiles helped CAA staff to better understand the program’s goals and market the program to clients. Another finding was that certain states were struggling with record keeping and enrollee trapping, due to issues of compatibility among state and local information management systems. SRI identified several solutions that were used in two trial states and that other pilot states could adopt.