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An Evaluation of AB 1111: The Breaking Barriers to Employment Initiative

In December 2019, the California Workforce Development Board (State Board)
awarded 26 Breaking Barriers to Employment Initiative (Breaking Barriers or the
initiative) grants. Each grant went to either a community-based organization (CBO)
or a workforce development board (WDB) with each grantee also having a named
WDB or CBO partner organization (respectively). These grants, which began in April
2020 and ended in March 2022, were designed to help individuals with barriers to
employment learn the skills and gain the experience and support needed to find
and retain employment. At that time, the State Board also commissioned the
Corporation for a Skilled Workforce and Social Policy Research Associates to
conduct an evaluation that examined what Breaking Barriers programs looked like,
how they operated, participants’ outcomes, and program-level outcomes. Data
sources included grantee background documents and narrative reports, a grantee
survey, phone interviews with selected grantees, and workforce system
administrative data (from CalJOBS).

The study team found that, overall, grantees accomplished much of what they had
set out to do, despite having started just before the onset of the COVID-19
pandemic. These programs collectively exceeded their enrollment goals, served the
barriered populations intended, offered a wide range of services, met most of their
self-identified program implementation goals, developed plans to sustain their
programs, and identified important strategies for meeting participant needs.
Furthermore, about 50 percent of participants were employed at about six months
after leaving the program, and about one-third showed measurable skill gains. That
said, these early outcomes reflect only a small portion of all program participants.
Also, the strength of CBO-WDB partnerships increased for only a small number of
grantees, with co-enrollment into other workforce programs reported infrequently
and primarily for programs with WDB grantees.
With these findings in mind, the study team recommends that in future rounds of
funding, the State Board find ways to strengthen CBO-WDB partnerships, explore
ways to standardize program elements (e.g., services provided and target
populations), refine and target technical assistance efforts, and provide a longer
follow-up period for conducting evaluations after the end of program grants.