Career Advancement

Career advancement is the positive progression of an individual’s working life along a career-related pathway. It is often associated with an increase in income or benefits, but advancement can also relate to other accomplishments that make it more likely participants will be able to increase their earnings in the future.  

Indicators of advancement for a participant can include the following:    

  • Gains in hourly wages or salary
  • Gains in number of hours worked per week or month
  • Changes in job status that result in receipt of health or paid-leave benefits
  • Changes in schedules that reflect participants’ desired hours
  • Increases in job responsibility 
  • Promotion along an identified career path within a business (with or without an increase in pay)
  • Completion of advanced training or an industry-recognized credential that better positions a participant for promotion or wage increase

Programs should track as much of the above information as possible when following up with employed participants. However, for many participants, advancement indicators may not occur until at least six months and often one to two years after initial employment with a business—requiring that programs serving an unemployed population find the resources and capacity to do more long-term follow-up if they want to understand participants’ career advancement results.  

A participant can also “advance” by changing to a different job that offers increased earnings or hours, although programs should counsel participants carefully to avoid changing jobs too frequently. A study of results for single parents as part of MDRC’s Employment Retention and Advancement Project showed that 25% of the study population advanced in earnings between the first and third years of the project, most often because of a change in jobs.  

For some programs, especially those focused on long-term strategies with a particular population or in a particular industry sector, “career advancement” is a very meaningful performance indicator. These programs work with employers and entry-level employees to identify the required experience and educational requirements to move forward on a career path, and then assist participants in accomplishing those steps. In this case, answering questions such as these helps the program monitor its overall progress:

  • How many participants have completed an overall advancement plan?
  • How many have enrolled in additional training that may be required for advancement?  
  • What percentage have completed the training satisfactorily?
  • What percentage have received some kind of increase in responsibility?
  • What percentage have shown an increase in earnings?
  • What percentage have been able to reduce or end their use of public benefits?

How do the answers to these questions compare to last year? To goals?

Surveys / Assessment


Sources Cited

Andersson, F., Holzer, H., and Lane, J. (2005). Moving Up or Moving On? Who Advances in the Low-Wage Labor Market? New York: Russell Sage Foundation.

Miller, C., Deitch, V., and Hill, A. (2011). Can Low-Income Single Parents Move Up in the Labor Market? Findings from the Employment Retention and Advancement Project. New York: MDRC. Retrieved 1/31/12 at 

Maguire, S., Freely, J., Clymer, C., Conway, M., and Schwartz, D. (2010). Tuning in to Local Labor Markets: Findings from the Sectoral Employment Impact Study. Philadelphia: Public/Private Ventures.

Social Policy Research Associates. (2011). PY 2010 WIASRD Data Book. Washington, DC: US Department of Labor. Retrieved on 12/12/11 at  

Kelly, J.S., Wavelet, M., Rowser, S., Molina, F., and Berin, D. (2004). Practical Tips and Tools to Strengthen Your ERA Program: A Technical Assistance Guide for the Employment Retention and Advancement Project. New York: MDRC.