Our Issues

Work is at the heart of our most important social issues and public policy debates. Economic growth requires that we have an educated, skilled workforce that can meet employers’ changing needs. Questions of inequality, mobility, and opportunity hinge on whether people are qualified for and have access to jobs that pay enough to support themselves and their families. 

Our research helps meet the workforce development needs of workers and employers. We evaluate workforce programs, offer practical tools to state and local stakeholders, and assess policy changes that can improve workers’ job prospects and help them build a successful career.

To help practitioners, employers, policymakers, and other stakeholders strengthen local workforces, we ask research questions to tackle the following goals:

Understanding what employers need
Our researchers seek to understand what sectors and occupations have growing demand, how demand varies across markets, and what skills workers need to meet these demands.

Assessing how best to educate and train workers
A growing number of jobs require some education beyond high school, whether through community colleges, four-year universities, community job training, or apprenticeships. We assess innovative ways schools and training programs can support “nontraditional” students and those disadvantaged in the labor market.

Improving systems that deliver education, training, and employment services
Workforce systems are the organizations and collaborative activities that prepare people for employment, connect them to jobs, help workers advance, and ensure a skilled workforce. We seek to understand how local workforce systems function, and suggest improvements.

Promoting policies that support quality jobs
Building a strong American workforce also means having policies that ensure job-quality standards and working conditions while promoting economic growth. We continually assess the effects of these policies—such as minimum wage, paid leave, worker safety, hours and overtime, and independent contracting—and propose changes.

Our Approach

Although our research applies to a wide set of workforce issues, we focus on elevating the skills and opportunities of less-educated or low-skilled workers. We work at the local, state, and federal levels to advise and inform a broad range of audiences.

  • To help program designers, operators, and funders, we conduct rigorous program evaluations and highlight innovative examples from around the country.
  • To help stakeholders improve the impact and efficiency of local workforce systems, we assess labor market demand, gaps in system service delivery and worker skills by industry, and the needs of specific groups, including youth, immigrants, working parents, and displaced workers.
  • To help policymakers, funders, advocates, and program providers, we examine changes in labor market demand and job trends and analyze the effects of labor market policies and regulations that could promote job quality.

We rely on the full breadth of knowledge within the Urban Institute to inform our work, collaborating with scholars whose work intersects with ours, from education researchers who study four-year colleges and universities to child care policy experts who understand the challenges faced by low-income parents seeking job training and education.

Our Impact

Our research sparks solutions for building a better workforce. For example, results from our evaluation of the University of Alaska’s Alaska Native Science and Engineering Program were used in testimony to the state legislature to increase technical training funding for youth. Our study of the skills gaps of older workers helped AARP target its skill-building programs for older adults. And our evaluation of Accelerating Opportunity has received national attention from those finding new ways to help low-skilled adults succeed, informing discussions that resulted in a policy change permitting adult students in dual-enrollment career pathway programs to qualify for federal financial aid.