What is the evidence on the impact of Career Ladder initiatives on poverty?


Given the association between low pay and poverty, initiatives to promote career (and hence wage) progression should have an indirect effect on poverty. Work retention - which also protects against poverty - is also associated with higher paying jobs and jobs with better conditions.

Three broad types of initiatives can be identified:

  • Career Pathway Programmes, which are education focused, building pathways through education programmes and ultimately to sustained employment;
  • Career Ladder Programmes, which are sector-focused and aim to develop career pathways within an industry or occupation;
  • Sectoral Employment Programmes, providing training to unemployed people which is sector-based and delivered in close collaboration with employers.

For this review, we are interested in programmes which seek to actively develop career pathways within an industry or occupation, and facilitate the progression of individuals.


All the evidence uncovered so far is US-based and primarily qualitative or case study-based. There is relatively little impact evidence, partly because many initiatives are new, and some studies are currently in the field. There are several descriptive studies of career-ladders programmes in the US, identifying implementation challenges, good practice, etc. (Duke et al, 2006; Gash and Mack, 2010; Mitnik and Zeidenberg 2007). There is also a qualitative evaluation of the Extended Care Career Ladder initiative - ECCLI (Singh, 2007). However no impact study is available. Public Private Ventures undertook an experimental study to determine the impact of sectoral employment programmes on unemployed and low-skilled adults (Maguire et al, 2010), and MDRC are currently conducting a robust evaluation of WorkAdvance, which combines sector-based employment programmes with in-work job coaching (Tessler, 2013). In the UK, the London Development Agency commissioned a career-ladders pilot, to trial models for supporting low-paid workers in the retail and hospitality sectors to progress, but to our knowledge there is no evaluation evidence available.


While often cited as example of good practice, the evidence base on career-ladders programmes is extremely limited, especially outside of the US.

1. Are we missing any robust, causal evidence on the impact of employer-focused career progression initiatives - on retention, wage progression and/or poverty?

2. Is there any evidence at all (of whatever quality) on the effect of career ladder initiatives outside of the US?

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