New Bridgespan Study Highlights Billion Dollar Bets for Establishing Career Pathways

09/07/2016 |


Report projects returns of up to 14:1 for philanthropy focused on increasing access to existing jobs for low-income and minority families, and scaling competency-based educational programs
BOSTON, September 7, 2016 – A new report from The Bridgespan Group, “Billion Dollar Bets to Establish Pathways to Careers,” details how $1 billion of philanthropy could substantially increase the supply of, and demand for, job seekers whose competencies are aligned with the skills that employers require. The report features impact projections that demonstrate how funding a series of career pathways initiatives could deliver returns of up to $14 for every $1 invested, increasing social mobility for hundreds of thousands of Americans.
“The contemporary labor market in the United States is failing too many job seekers. Full-time jobs that provide family-sustaining wages and basic benefits are often extremely difficult for low-income and minority individuals to secure,” commented Debby Bielak, a partner at Bridgespan and co-author of the study.  

In identifying career pathways investments with the highest potential impact, Bridgespan reviewed numerous research and policy papers, including reports from Jobs for the Future and the Georgetown Center on Education and the Workforce. Bridgespan also conducted interviews and collaborative working sessions with researchers, practitioners, policymakers, and philanthropists. Included among these individuals were leaders from Opportunit[email protected], National Academy Foundation, Lumina Foundation, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and The Comcast Foundation.

“We envision a world where anyone in the U.S. is able to find employment that is more than just a job, but instead a career with all of the associated benefits. Our research indicates that this vision can only become a reality if we make fundamental changes to how we both train people in the U.S. for careers, and connect job seekers with employers,” said Devin Murphy, a manager at Bridgespan and co-author of the paper.
The investments detailed in Bridgespan’s report focus on four core areas, which collectively are designed to have the greatest potential impact on helping more low-income individuals access careers:
  1. Support national-level understanding of job market needs. In an effort to build momentum around competency-based hiring, philanthropists could identify industries where there is a need for talent, and then bring together employers, educators and policymakers to align around a clear set of competencies and then provide capital for employers to switch to competency-based hiring. This funding could be for technical assistance to human resources departments, or financial incentives for employers.
  2. Ensure that low-income job seekers have the information and support they need to identify the best path to a career that matches their skills and interests. Philanthropists could build mechanisms for collecting information about promising career pathways, and make this information easy to access for low-income individuals. In addition to putting dollars into developing education- and employment-related data, philanthropists would play a role in funding organizations to support counselors at local high schools, community colleges, and other institutions of higher education.
  3. Invest in alternative, competency-based postsecondary programs that target low-income populations. Many students receiving traditional education, from secondary school through college, are not prepared with the basic competencies required for a career. Philanthropists could make investments to equip students with the skills they need, and also connect them to employers and careers.
  4. Advocate for federal and state funding to support competency-based programs. Philanthropists could invest in changing government policies so that funding for education is based on labor market outcomes. That would prompt higher education institutions and workforce programs to ensure that participants develop market-ready skills.
Commented Bielak, “In looking at the impact of this bet, we could have analyzed any number of factors, such as how access to better career pathways reduces incarceration levels or improves outcomes for the children of adults who secured better jobs. For the purpose of this analysis, we focused on calculating how these investments would affect the number of people completing a postsecondary degree at the associate level, and the resulting increase in their lifetime earnings.”

“If a philanthropist were to make a $1 billion investment across our four recommended areas, we project that 2.2 million adults ages 18 to 44 could be impacted, and 3 to 6 percent of these adults would be able to achieve a credential based on the expanded pathways. Each credential could be worth roughly $111,000 in potential lifetime earnings, leading to a return on investment of $7.3 billion to $14.6 billion,” added Murphy.

Bridgespan’s career pathways study is part of the organization’s research project, “Billion Dollar Bets to Create Economic Opportunity for Every American,” which offers a data driven, field-informed perspective on 15 high-potential bets through which philanthropists could make the biggest improvement on social mobility with a $1 billion investment.
About The Bridgespan Group
The Bridgespan Group ( is a nonprofit advisor and resource for mission-driven organizations and philanthropists. We collaborate with social sector leaders to help scale impact, build leadership, advance philanthropic effectiveness and accelerate learning. We work on issues related to society’s most important challenges and to break cycles of intergenerational poverty. Our services include strategy consulting, leadership development, philanthropy advising, and developing and sharing practical insights.
Creative Commons License

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.
Permissions beyond the scope of this license are available in our Terms and Conditions.

Show Comments