Fixing to Change: A Best Practices Assessment of One-Stop Job Centers Working With Welfare Recipients. Workforce Development Center, Marshalltown, Iowa


The Workforce Development Center serves a 4-county area in eastern central Iowa that is largely rural. Marshalltown itself is a city of approximately 25,000. Roughly 15 percent of Marshalltown's population is of Hispanic origin. Surrounding counties served are very rural, and driving distance to the Center can be as much as 80 miles.

  • State Workforce System: 1996 legislation created a consolidated Workforce Development Department, formalizing the structure of the state Workforce Development Council and calling for the creation of local boards to select service providers and monitor local workforce development centers. Local centers must include DoL funded programs (JTPA Titles II and III, Employment Services, Veterans Employment Services, Senior Community Service Employment, and Unemployment Insurance), as well as the Food Stamp Employment and Training Program and the state's PROMISE JOBS program for welfare clients. Participation of a variety of other partners is "strongly encouraged." Service delivery plans are approved by local and state boards, with an emphasis on performance-based community service provider contracts.
  • Welfare Reform: Iowa was one of the first states to enact a comprehensive welfare reform package under federal waivers in October 1993. The new benefit system, called the Family Investment Program or FIP, took the place of Aid for Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) and made changes to the Food Stamp Program. Each FIP participant is required to develop a Family Investment Agreement (FIA) which outlines the steps the individual will take toward self-sufficiency, including education, job training, and employment. Caregivers with children under age 6 months are exempt from this requirement. PROMISE JOBS is the employment and training program under which FIAs are to be carried out.

    Those who enroll in FIP but fail to meet the program requirements are transferred into the Limited Benefits Plan (LBP). Most LBP participants end up in the program due to non-compliance with the FIP. The LBP provides three months of reduced benefits, followed by six months of no cash benefits for the entire family, although non-cash assistance such as Food Stamps and Medicaid continue. At the end of the six-month period, recipients can reapply to the FIP but must develop and comply with their FIA. If recipients fail to meet the requirements of the FIP a second time, the case is referred back into the LBP. The second time around, no cash benefits are provided for six-months and there is no option for reconsideration for either LBP or FIP after the allotted time has expired.

  • Local Economy: The impact of the nation's farm crisis in Iowa during the early and mid 1980's caused significant hardship and restructuring of the local economy. During the late 1980s, Marshalltown experienced major, permanent lay-offs by its largest employer, a manufacturing company paying some of the area's highest wages and benefits. However, during the most recent recovery cycle the region's economy has expanded and changed dramatically, resulting in an unemployment rate of just over 3 percent in the county at the time of our site visit. Despite the strong economy, job turnover in the adjacent rural counties served by the Workforce Development Center was quite low. Current job listings in some counties were extremely limited at the time of the visit.
  • Location and Physical Space: Marshalltown is located on the freeway about 40 miles northeast of Des Moines. The Workforce Development Center is located between the center of town and the freeway, with the Iowa Valley Community College within walking distance on the other side of the freeway. The Center is housed in a two-story building constructed specifically for it's use. Visitors walk into a large reception area and a receptionist is on hand to direct them to services. The first floor accommodates a large meeting space, offices for most program staff and a computer training lab. The second floor provides classroom space, more computers, a job research space, and a video conferencing center. Most staff have individual offices, clustered by program and surrounding an open office arrangement for the Center director.
  • General Concept: The Center provides service based on an inverted pyramid concept. The Center is organized to encourage clients, as a first step, to serve themselves in the Resource Room or in other areas of the Center. Center staff have found that most client needs can be met through the self-service offerings. In our interviews, the most frequently repeated phrase was focused on the client-oriented goal setting: "you can set your own goals here, what do you want to do?" For those who require additional assistance, various groups are provided in order to meet specific needs including resume workshops, computer skills, and career assessments. As a last step, clients needing intensive services can obtain one-on-one service from on-site staff. This framework for service delivery means the Center can meet the needs of most job seekers while focusing staff time on areas where the need is greatest.

    Promise Jobs Program: Since Promise Jobs participants who aren't engaging in the system are usually enrolled in the LBP, most of the clients seen by the Workforce Development Center are FIP enrollees. Most client FIAs call for participation in one of two job clubs offered by the Center. These clubs are viewed as the first step towards gainful employment. The first type of club is called Living Skills and focuses on basic programs for those clients who are facing multiple barriers to employment. Through this program, clients work in a group setting and with case managers to improve self-esteem and life skills, and address other barriers to prepare for the next level of job club called Job Readiness. The Job Readiness program is designed to assist clients with job search skills. Job seeking information, dress and interview workshops, and support networks are all provided through this program.

    The Center's Promise Jobs program places a fairly heavy emphasis on community college training, and provides some limited state resources to support education and training for enrolled clients. Most of this direct assistance comes in the form of childcare and transportation support for clients enrolled in school. Tuition financing is generally provided via Pell Grants and loans.

  • Partners: Marshalltown's Promise Jobs program is managed under contract by the Iowa Valley Community College District. Co-located agencies at the Resource Center include:
    • Iowa Department of Workforce Development
    • Iowa Valley Community College District
    • Iowa Department of Vocational Rehabilitation
    • American Indian Council
    • Mid-Iowa Community Action
    • Institute for Social and Economic Development

    The state welfare agency, the Department of Human Services (DHS), was intentionally not located at the Marshalltown Center. The purpose of this design was to avoid a confusion of purposes for welfare clients, separating the agency responsible for cash assistance from the Center' focus on jobs, training and self-sufficiency.

  • Job-Seeker Services: The Resource Center offers a wide array of services for both job seekers and employers. On-site agencies provide the following services for job seekers:
    • Vocational rehabilitation
    • Job Training Partnership Act (JTPA)
    • GED (General Education Development) tests
    • American Indian Council JTPA Program
    • Title IV-A
    • Career assessment
    • Veterans benefits
    • Unemployment insurance
    • Resource center
  • Employer Services: The Center has several services designed specifically to meet employer needs. These include:
    • Recruitment, selection and assist in hiring of employees
    • Employment information seminars
    • Downsizing assistance
    • Workplace basics
    • Manufacturing and industrial technology training
    • Communication skills
    • Computer applications
    • Business management
    • Conferences, meeting rooms, teleconferences and interactive communications network
  • Data Systems and Fiscal Planning: The Center relies on the DHS to send monthly activity reports for all PROMISE JOBS participants located in the Center's Service Delivery Area (SDA). These reports include information about those participants that have earnings in that month, those that have FIAs and those that need to develop FIAs. The Center uses class schedules and grades to track participants that are in school. The Center can access the DHS database and works closely with income maintenance workers at DHS. Activity in the Center is monitored through sign-in sheets, staff notes, and PROMISE JOBS forms. This information is entered into an on-site database.

    Marshalltown does not have a formal budget for the Center. Operational funds come from the many different programs located on-site and the Department of Human Services.