Sector initiatives are regional, industry-focused approaches to workforce and economic development. They improve access to good jobs and/or increase job quality in ways that strengthen an industry’s workforce.

Significant changes in demographics, the growth of technology, the globalization of markets, and the restructuring of work have dramatically transformed the U.S. economy and workplace. Once, a majority of American workers were assured of lifelong careers in a single industry or occupation, and their health and retirement benefits came with their jobs. Now, good pay and benefits demand higher levels of skill and education and are more difficult for low-income individuals to obtain. Employers struggle to find the right employees to fill key positions while facing rapid turnover and critical staff shortages. These changes have led to increased poverty, joblessness, and underemployment for low-income workers, and economic uncertainty for employers. Communities suffer the consequences.

Public agencies, employers, unions, and nonprofits have traditionally applied a range of approaches—from direct job placement to vocational education to organizing—to address the situation. One approach, the sector initiative, has proved particularly successful and has become a leading-edge strategy nationwide.

Sector initiatives share four elements that distinguish them from conventional workforce programs:

  • They focus intensively on a specific industry over a sustained time period, customizing solutions for multiple employers within a regional labor market.
  • They strengthen economic growth and industry competitiveness by creating new pathways into targeted industries, and toward good jobs and careers. This approach benefits low-income individuals and sustains and creates middle-class jobs.
  • They utilize workforce intermediaries, organizations that have a deep understanding of worker and employer issues in an industry and within a regional labor market. These organizations facilitate the many stakeholders involved to develop and implement industry-based workforce solutions.
  • They promote systemic change that achieves benefits for the industry, workers, and the community.


Leaders in the field target a wide range of industries, including manufacturing, healthcare, information technology, construction, hospitality, telecommunications, food production, child care, temporary staffing, printing, and many more. A focus on specific industries, with their common occupations and skill requirements, allows sector initiatives to develop greater understanding of workers and employers in the field, reach out to employers who often have existing relationships, and develop targeted programming. Regional partnerships of key stakeholders help sector initiatives obtain important input and buy-in, mobilize resources, and leverage financial support.

The sector initiative is not a cookie-cutter method. Initiative leaders use a variety of strategies that are tailored to the regional economy, industry sectors, and worker populations. Basic strategies include training and skills development to bring new employees into specific industries and occupations; business development; organization of residents, workers, employers, and other key constituents; labor market and industry research; restructuring of work environments to improve recruitment, hiring, training, compensation, and retention strategies; and integrating two or more of these strategies in a multifaceted approach. These initiatives result in companies that are better able to fulfill their need for competent, long-term employees, while employees obtain improved income, benefits, and employment opportunities.

For an overview of sector initiatives, please see What Is a Sector Initiative?

For overviews of specific issues related to developing and implementing sector initiatives, please also see our Sector Essentials series: