Press Release

WorkRise awards $2.6 million to support innovative pilot studies that test solutions to boost workers’ economic mobility

Media contact: Archana Pyati, (202) 261-5614 or

An earlier version of this press release said WorkRise awarded $2.8 million to support pilot studies. The press release has been updated with the correct amount (corrected 11/17/22)

October 19, 2022—WorkRise has awarded $2.6 million to support nine pilot studies of interventions aimed at improving economic security and mobility for low-wage workers and creating a more equitable labor market. The winning project teams will generate new data and evidence by rigorously testing real-world interventions aimed at strengthening workers’ digital skills, providing social and economic supports to vulnerable workers and small businesses, and making talent pools more inclusive through skills-based hiring. 

More than 100 teams applied for funding in response to a request for proposals (RFP) launched earlier this year. With support from the Mastercard Center for Inclusive Growth and other WorkRise funders, the RFP prioritized projects that aim to leverage technology and data science, strengthen pathways into high-wage industries, narrow digital divides, and bolster social and economic supports in employment and training contexts. All winning teams are cross-sector partnerships between researchers and innovators in the public, private, or nonprofit sector. 

In addition, the nine projects seek to improve earnings and employment outcomes for workers who experience structural disadvantage and systemic inequities in the labor market, particularly Black, Latinx, and Indigenous people; women; immigrants; and formerly incarcerated people.

“WorkRise is keenly interested in funding research on real-world solutions that can accelerate economic mobility and career advancement for workers who have been historically excluded from opportunity and high-wage careers,” said WorkRise Executive Director Todd Greene. “These nine projects exemplify our commitment to building evidence on promising interventions that can be scaled and adopted by employers, policymakers, and practitioners all eager to implement policies and programs that will transform the lives of low-wage workers and their families.”

These projects complement a growing portfolio of WorkRise research investments, now totaling over $7.3 million, designed to fill the most critical knowledge gaps and shape the priorities, frameworks, and actions of labor market actors, including policymakers, employers, worker advocates, practitioners, philanthropies, and scholars. As these projects launch and yield findings over the next two years, WorkRise and its network will amplify findings using their digital platforms, research translation capacities, and convening power.

Seven projects will test novel interventions for efficacy and scale:

Advancing Economic Mobility in Manufacturing (AEMM)

Organizations: MAGNET: The Manufacturing Advocacy and Growth Network, Towards Employment, PolicyBridge, and New Growth Group

Project: The AEMM program pairs manufacturing career training and wraparound services for returning citizens and unemployed youth with opportunities for manufacturing employers to inform program curricula to their hiring needs, receive technical assistance for employee retention best practices, and connect to potential employees. Researchers will scrutinize both program outcomes and the factors potentially driving previously observed retention disparities between Black and white workers. Findings will inform workforce development service providers, industry intermediaries, and employers seeking to diversify their workforces and retain employees.

Byte Back: A Pilot RCT on Digital Upskilling for Low-Tech Workers

Organizations: RAND Corporation, Morgan State University, and Byte Back

Project: Byte Back offers basic digital literacy programming for adults with little or no computer experience, a population that typically does not qualify for traditional technology training programs. Through randomized and quasi-experimental designs, RAND and Morgan State University will study the short-term employment and earnings of students receiving digital skills training and observe changes in intermediate outcomes such as job search behavior, daily technology use, and personal economic outlooks. Results could enhance deployment of federal funds aimed at bridging the digital divide, such as grants from the Digital Equity Act.

Cash for Coloradans and Evidence for Equitable Upskilling

Organizations: Colorado Equitable Economic Mobility Initiative (CEEMI) with the Colorado Evaluation and Action Lab, ActivateWork, Center for Employment Opportunities (CEO), and CrossPurpose

Project: This project will evaluate programs offering different cash supports (varying stipends, incentives, wage subsidies, and no-interest loans) to clients of three Colorado training and career development nonprofits. At each site, researchers will use a randomized controlled trial or quasi-experimental design to understand how cash supports influence client employment and earnings outcomes and whether stabilizing financial supports can deter “benefit cliffs” that undermine financial stability. This research will add another dimension to current evidence on the employment effects of other income supports such as the earned income tax credit and child tax credit.

Fairness-Aware Machine Learning Models for Improving Workforce Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion

Organizations: AdeptID and Grads of Life

Project: AdeptID will test the use of predictive models that use AI bias-mitigation technology to identify overlooked talent within employers’ applicant pools. This experimental study will track differences in hiring decisions between intervention and control groups and observe outcomes by company characteristics and job type. Project results could point to best practices and useful directions for further development and use of machine learning in developing equitable and inclusive hiring practices.

Skilled Credentials at Work: Assessing Skilled Credentials as Part of Inclusive Hiring

Organizations: Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) Foundation, SHRM Research Institute, and SHRM Georgia State Council

Pilot: The Skilled Credentials at Work education and technical assistance program will train human resources professionals on how to use skilled credentials to hire, place, and promote workers without traditional degrees. Researchers will assess changes in perceptions of skilled credentials by Georgia SHRM’s human resources network, job postings, hiring outcomes, and other employer systems. In addition, SHRM will inventory current practices for several companies receiving implementation coaching and assistance. Findings could strengthen employer hiring decisions, educational and workforce development approaches, and policy supports for skilled credentials.

Small Business High-Road Labor Standards Intervention

Organizations: Workplace Justice Lab at Rutgers University (WJL@RU) and City of Minneapolis Labor Standards Enforcement Division (LSED)

Project: WJL@RU and Minneapolis LSED will test whether ongoing support with payroll, human resources, or other business operation systems to small businesses owned by immigrants or BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, or People of Color) owners is more effective than standard outreach and education in helping them comply with local employment standards and improving job quality for workers employed at these firms. This project will test whether compliance approaches that are less punitive and more focused on capacity building could strengthen BIPOC business owners’ ability to improve job quality elements, including minimum wage and paid leave practices, for their employees.

Testing for the Active Ingredients: Piloting Advancement Services Added to Sectoral Programs

Organizations: MDRC and Per Scholas

Project: Per Scholas and MDRC will test whether adding alumni advancement coaching services— such as 1:1 coaching, group coaching, employment technical assistance (career plans and résumé reviews), and upskilling referrals—to sectoral training programs enables trainees to achieve greater success in the IT field. MDRC will lead Per Scholas through a human-centered design process to ensure that the new alumni advancement model is set up for a strong testing stage and centered on equity. MDRC will conduct a quasi-experimental study design to measure changes in earnings and other markers that newly placed workers are on the path to achieving stronger wage gains. The study will examine demographic differences in the effects of the intervention to understand how well different groups are served.

Two teams will build new research partnerships to design rigorous implementation and evaluation strategies for early-stage programs:

Bendable: Strengthening the Role of Public Libraries in Community-Based Workforce Development

Organizations: Drucker Institute and MenloEDU

Project: This project seeks to establish a causal connection between implementation of the online workforce development platform Bendable in library settings and a range of employment outcomes for job seekers, employers, libraries, and communities. The Drucker Institute will assemble a research team to design a rigorous mixed-methods study and help establish foundations for implementation and data collection.

Ladders Program

Organizations: Atlanta Technical College, Department of Community Supervision, Project Pinnacle, Office of the Solicitor General (Fulton and DeKalb Counties)

Project: Ladders aims to reduce recidivism and promote self-sufficiency for eligible young adults (ages 17 –24) with prior justice system involvement. The program combines career-skills education, employability, and rehabilitative programming to lead participants toward diverse career pathways and economic sustainability.

About WorkRise

WorkRise is a research-to-action network focused on jobs, workers, and mobility hosted by the Urban Institute. WorkRise seeks to create a more equitable and resilient labor market that expands opportunity and strengthens economic mobility for low-wage workers. WorkRise pursues its mission by investing in research on promising practices, programs, and policies aimed at creating economic security and mobility for workers, particularly Black, Latinx, and Indigenous people; women; immigrants; and others facing historic and structural disadvantage. WorkRise convenes stakeholders across siloes to develop data-driven solutions for leaders in the private and public sector to implement and scale in order to transform the lives of workers and families.