National Evaluation of the Welfare-to-Work Grants Program: Final Report. Transitional Employment

09/01/2004

Even with access to employment preparation services and, under certain conditions, skill enhancement services such as job training and education, some WtW enrollees faced a difficult road to employment. TANF work requirements in some states prompted TANF-funded and WtW-funded programs to create subsidized, transitional jobs to ensure that all enrollees required to work did so. Most WtW enrollees could satisfy work requirements for a short initial period by participating in job readiness workshops. WtW program staff pointed out, however, that individuals with serious problems, such as physical or mental disabilities or low basic education attainment, often had great difficulty moving from a short job readiness activity into the unsubsidized labor market.

Transitional employment components addressed several concerns. For enrollees unable to find employment quickly, subsidized transitional employment made it possible to continue meeting TANF work requirements while developing potentially marketable skills. This was especially relevant for enrollees who were unsuccessful in finding an unsubsidized job through the front-end job readiness and placement components of a WtW program. Transitional employment could also be a bridge to unsubsidized employment. In some programs, transitional employment components were structured in such a way that participating employers were expected to hire a worker who successfully completed a trial work period.

In the WtW study sites, grantees instituted several different forms of transitional employment, with slightly different entry and exit paths:

  • Temporary Work Experience. Some Chicago programs placed individuals in a temporary work experience assignment after a brief job readiness workshop. In West Virginias HRDF program, after a four-week job readiness workshop, about two-thirds of enrollees were placed for up to six months in unpaid work experience at nonprofit organizations, with no expectation of permanent employment.
  • Simple Private Sector Transitional Jobs. More capable and job-ready enrollees in West Virginia were placed for up to one month in unpaid positions at private businesses or in paid on-the-job training (OJT) positions for up to six months, with the understanding that the employer would offer a job upon successful completion.
  • Enhanced Transitional Jobs. In Philadelphia, TWC targeted individuals with little or no work experience who, soon after program entry, were placed in transitional jobs for 25 hours per week for six months, and participated in 10 hours of education or group training each week, but with no prospect of continuing employment.
  • Sectoral Employer Partnerships. Collaborations were formed in Boston with particular employers or industries. After a pre-employment component of three or four months of job readiness skills development, WtW enrollees were placed in paid transitional internship jobs at partnering firms for four to six months, with a focus on building basic job-specific or firm-specific skills. Firms agreed to hire enrollees as regular employees at the end of the internship period.

These transitional employment variants differed with respect to the payment of wages. While enrollees were generally paid in supported/transitional work, this was not always the case. When paid, enrollees in the study sites were most likely to receive either the minimum wage (Philadelphia TWC, Yakima, and several subcontractor programs in Chicago and Ft. Worth) or the going rate for what were usually entry-level jobs. If the position was a formal OJT slot  generally with a commitment to hire and provide job-specific training over a six-month period  enrollees were paid at the same regular hourly as other new hires in the same positions. In some programs in Ft. Worth, enrollees received no payment for work experience hours, though they may have received some compensation for work-related expenses. In the West Virginia HRDF work experience positions, enrollees were generally unpaid but continued to receive their TANF cash grant, food stamps, and a work-related expense payment of $1.60 per hour.

Grantee descriptions of their programs indicated that all study sites made some use of transitional employment, but the emphasis on this component varied. Gauging levels of participation accurately is more difficult than with other WtW activities because respondents to the two follow-up surveys often had trouble distinguishing a regular job from a transitional job, and program MIS files often failed to clearly classify transitional jobs. However, it appears from MIS files that in West Virginia and Philadelphia, as many as 68 and 75 percent of enrollees, respectively, participated in some kind of transitional employment.(33) In Chicago, it is possible that as many as 50 percent of WtW enrollees overall had some kind of transitional placement; and we know that such placements were a core activity in Boston, although we do not have MIS files to quantify participation rates. In most of the other study sites, MIS files suggest that transitional employment involved far fewer enrollees  ranging from about 5 percent in Ft. Worth to 10 percent in Phoenix, and perhaps as many as 22 percent in Nashville. Although these MIS data do not provide clear-cut documentation of transitional employment, they do appear consistent with the emphasis that program grantees reported placing on this component.

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