Evaluating Two Approaches to Case Management: Implementation, Participation Patterns, Costs, and Three-Year Impacts of the Columbus Welfare-to-Work Program. Employment Preparation Strategy


Welfare-to-work programs have used different strategies to foster recipients' economic self-sufficiency. Employment-focused, or labor force attachment (LFA), programs have aimed to quickly move people into jobs by requiring and helping them to look for work, reflecting the belief that people can most effectively build employability through work experience. Education-focused, or human capital development (HCD), programs, in contrast, have emphasized building skills through education and training as a precursor to employment, reflecting the belief that an initial investment in the skills levels of welfare recipients will allow them to eventually obtain higher-paying and more secure jobs.

The integrated and traditional programs in Columbus were both education-focused (and were not designed or expected to differ in terms of this program dimension). The programs did not have a specific prescribed activity sequence, but staff strongly encouraged people who did not have a high school diploma or GED certificate to earn one by attending basic education classes. They encouraged many of those who already had a diploma or GED to attend vocational training or post-secondary education classes or to participate in work experience before actively seeking a job. (The accompanying text box describes the various activities offered in Columbus.) The following remarks made by an integrated case manager typify the comments made by many Columbus staff members during field research:

My opinion is that clients should get an education. They should work toward a job that will get them off welfare. If they take a job flipping hamburgers, they will end up right back on welfare.

Program Activities and Services

The Columbus JOBS program supported participation in a wide variety of activities, including:

  • Job search. Job clubs were run at the Columbus JOBS center and the local Goodwill agency. They combined classroom instruction on searching for a job with actual job search. Columbus also required some people  typically those who did not need training on writing a résumé or interviewing  to search for a job on their own, with frequent check-ins with their case manager.
  • Basic education. The welfare department contracted with the public school system to offer basic education classes at the JOBS center. Classes offered included General Educational Development (GED) certificate preparation courses, Adult Basic Education courses that provided reading and mathematics instruction for people whose achievement levels were too low for entry into the GED course (usually at the 8th grade level and below), and English as a Second Language classes that provided non-English speakers with instruction in spoken and written English. During the evaluation, Columbus developed specialized classes for recipients with very low literacy levels.
  • Post-secondary education. Columbus allowed people to take courses for credit toward a college degree at two-year and four-year colleges.
  • Vocational training. Offered primarily through public vocational schools and private proprietary schools, these classes provided occupational training, for example, for nurse's assistants, and in areas such as office computer applications.
  • Work experience. Participants were placed in unpaid positions (they continued to receive their welfare grant) with employers to develop job skills. Most participants were placed in clerical positions, but program staff were willing to match placements to recipients' career interests.
  • Life skills workshops. Columbus offered a pre-education retention program, operated by the local community college, that included career exploration, self-esteem-building activities, and advice on time management and study skills.

Columbus offered support services, including:

  • Child care. The JOBS program paid providers for child care costs incurred as a result of participation for program and control group members who enrolled in employment and training activities. The Columbus JOBS center also provided on-site child care for children aged 2 1/2 to 5. If eligible, sample members could be reimbursed through the Transitional Child Care program for child care expenses incurred while they were employed and no longer receiving cash assistance.
  • Work allowances. The program paid program participants work allowances to cover transportation costs and other incidental costs.

Staff referred only the most employable recipients to job search services  typically those who had at least a high school diploma or GED, some work experience, and no serious problems, such as substance abuse, that might interfere with working. In fact, program participants were sometimes given the impression that a GED was "mandatory" for employment, and staff operating the job clubs and other placement activities preferred that people have a diploma or GED before starting these activities.

Field researchers observed that many Columbus staff members perceived their purpose to be helping recipients overcome barriers, not finding specific job openings for them; one case manager said that, "this is not an employment agency." Also, although the programs had full-time job developers, information on job leads was not communicated effectively to case managers or to recipients, at least early in the follow-up period. During the evaluation, Columbus developed a placement specialist position to connect job developers with case managers; staff disagreed about whether this improved the situation.

Scales created from a survey of staff in all of the NEWWS Evaluation programs confirm that Columbus staff strongly favored the human capital development approach. The first set of bars in Figure 2.1 shows the percentage of integrated and traditional JOBS case managers who leaned toward either the labor force attachment or the human capital development approach as the better way to move recipients into jobs and off welfare.(1) Over 65 percent of Columbus staff leaned toward the HCD approach, and only 5 percent leaned toward the LFA approach. Staff who did not express a strong preference were not placed in either group. The percentage in Columbus favoring HCD is among the highest of the NEWWS Evaluation programs. (See the accompanying text box for a brief description of the other programs in the evaluation.)


The Other Programs in the National Evaluation of Welfare-to-Work Strategies
The National Evaluation of Welfare-to-Work Strategies is assessing the effectiveness of 11 welfare-to-work programs in seven sites, including the integrated and traditional programs in Columbus. Three sites in the evaluation Atlanta, Georgia; Grand Rapids, Michigan; and Riverside, California ran two different programs: an employment-focused, or labor force attachment (LFA), program and an education-focused, or human capital development (HCD), program. The employment-focused programs aimed to quickly get people into jobs, even at low wages, by requiring and helping them to look for work. In these programs, job search was the prescribed first activity for virtually the entire caseload. The education-focused programs emphasized education and training prior to entry into the labor market. In these programs, basic education was the most common first activity because of the generally low educational attainment of the enrollees at program entry. The research design in these three sites, as in Columbus, allows the evaluation to determine the effectiveness of the two different programs relative to no welfare-to-work program (represented by the outcomes of a control group whose members were not required or allowed to participate in either program), as well as the effectiveness of the programs relative to each other.

In the other three sites Detroit, Michigan; Oklahoma City, Oklahoma; and Portland, Oregon the evaluation is testing the net effects of the sites welfare-to-work programs. The Detroit and Oklahoma City programs were primarily education-focused. The Portland program can be considered strongly employment-focused and moderately education-focused.

In total, the 11 evaluation programs range from strongly employment-focused to strongly education-focused and from somewhat voluntary to highly mandatory. The program sites offer diverse geographic locations, caseload demographics, labor markets, and welfare grant levels. However, because of NEWWS Evaluation selection criteria, the programs were all mature welfare-to-work programs, relatively free of the transitional problems associated with the start-up of a complex, multi-component welfare-to-work program. These programs, while not representing all welfare-to-work programs in the nation, represent a wide range of welfare-to-work options.

According to field research, many Columbus staff members encouraged recipients to look for and take jobs that paid more than minimum wage. Survey responses indicate that this varied somewhat by case management approach. As the second set of bars in Figure 2.1 shows, 32 percent of traditional staff  the highest percentage of any program  and 14 percent of integrated staff said that they encouraged recipients to be selective in taking a job. Program participants corroborated this difference: As the third set of bars shows, more recipients in the integrated program than the traditional program said on a survey that they felt pushed by their case manager to take a job before they were ready or before a good job came along (43 percent compared with 29 percent). This difference probably also reflects the fact that because the integrated structure facilitated more frequent contact between recipients and case managers, integrated case managers had more opportunities to reinforce the employment message.

Figure 2.1:
Employment preparation strategy

Employment preparation strategy