The Evaluation of the Tribal Welfare-to-Work Grants Program: Initial Implementation Findings. In Indian Country, It May Be Necessary to Supplement "Work First" with Education, Training, and Supported Work


The "work first" approach that is the hallmark of most state TANF and WtW programs assumes that, with the right incentives and supports, combined with limited job-readiness or skills preparation, most TANF recipients will find work. Such an approach may be impractical on Indian reservations, where prospects for finding work often are low and there is little new job creation. It does not seem reasonable to expect WtW and TANF programs to transition long-term welfare recipients into jobs, when there are few if any job openings on the reservation or within commuting distance of the reservation. In such a depressed economic environment, the placement of an individual in a job on the reservation may simply mean displacement of another individual. The prospects of finding a job off the reservation--particularly one paying a wage that permits self-sufficiency--may also be very low (or nonexistent). Moreover, moving off the reservation for employment can itself be a wrenching experience.

Within the constraints imposed by WtW, tribal programs need to consider how they can supplement work first approaches with other program services to upgrade basic skills, provide educational credentials (postsecondary certificates and degrees if possible), and a range of subsidized supported work opportunities. Tribes may be able to diversify program offerings under WtW by combining resources under a 477 program or by expanding collaboration with other agencies (particularly local workforce development programs). Tribal programs need to look for ways to build job-related skills, experience, and the resumes of participants to make them more competitive within the job market. This is not a simple task and is likely to take more time and resources than a two- or three-week job readiness workshop, followed by intensive job search, can provide. The experiences of tribal programs visited underscore the importance of providing a comprehensive range of services to address the varied problems tribal members face in transitioning from welfare to employment. At a minimum, either through the sponsoring agency or by coordinating with other local service providers, the following core program components are needed to provide comprehensive WtW services:

  • Well-targeted and coordinated outreach and recruitment
  • Assessment and employability development planning, culminating in the development of a written individual employment or service plan that identifies participant goals and activities
  • Ongoing case management and individual counseling
  • Job search, job development, and job placement services, including job search workshops, job clubs, help in identifying job leads, and direct job placement assistance
  • Job training services, including (1) remedial education and basic skills/literacy instruction, (2) occupational skills training, (3) OJT, and (4) other types of work experience, such as internships/fellowships
  • Postplacement follow-up and support services (such as additional job placement services, training after placement, support groups, and mentoring)
  • Other support services provided directly by the project or through referral arrangements with other human services providers. These services include parenting education; alcohol and other substance abuse assessment and counseling, with referral as appropriate to outpatient or inpatient treatment; child care assistance; transportation assistance; referral for mental health assessment, counseling, and treatment; and referral for housing services.

Work experience activities need to be structured so that individuals with very low skill levels and no prior work experience can gradually move along a continuum of work experience activities toward full-time, unsubsidized work. For example, projects will likely need to begin some participants with part-time, unpaid work experience, accompanied by remedial education or short-term occupational training. Gradually, exposure to work can be intensified in hours and work requirements. At the other end of the continuum of subsidized work (before placement into an unsubsidized job), would be OJT. Under OJT, a participant would be placed for up six months with an employer, with the wage being partially paid by the WtW program (up to 50 percent) and the rest covered by the employer. Employers sponsoring OJTs typically would make a firm offer to hire the participant at the end of the training period.