Staffing takes on added importance in work first programs because so much of the job involves encouraging and motivating participants in addition to the work of processing and monitoring participation. Most programs will make use of existing program staff as they shift to a work first approach. Many will also hire new staff. In assembling the program staff, administrators will need to work within local civil service rules, hiring limitations, and union agreements.
The following guidelines have been recommended by administrators in several work first programs. Most apply to staff at every level, from management to support staff.
- Look for staff who are committed to the program's philosophy and goals, and who believe the program can work.
- Look for staff who are outgoing, energetic, and enthusiastic and who can strike a balance between compassion and challenging participants. Also, look for staff who are supportive of participants and believe in their abilities.
- Look for staff who are organized and can manage a caseload without becoming overwhelmed by the administrative part of the job.
- Hire a diverse staff, who bring different backgrounds and expertise to the program. These might include:
- Staff from the private sector, because that is where most participants will be looking for jobs
- Staff with an employment or human resources background, who can bring expertise in job placement
- Staff with experience in marketing, public relations, or sales, especially for positions as job developers
- Staff who are experienced at making presentations or working with groups, especially for positions that involve facilitating job clubs or other group activities
- Staff with experience as eligibility workers, to bring an understanding of what the eligibility office does and to facilitate coordination between the two offices
- Staff from the organizations that will provide key services, because they know the culture and "language" of those programs
- Staff with specialized training or a social work background, who can serve as a resource for other staff members in working with hard-to-serve participants
- Former welfare recipients, who bring personal experience to the program and whose success can motivate both staff and participants
- Staff who reflect the diversity-in terms of gender, race, age, language, and the like-of the participants being served
Training for work first staff needs to focus both on the tasks required to do the job and on the program's overall philosophy and goals. At least one day of training should focus exclusively on the philosophy, to make sure that all staff are willing and able to promote that philosophy in their work. This will be less of an issue when new staff are hired who already support the program's goals, and more of an issue when current staff are asked to adapt to a new program philosophy. Program administrators may wish to provide training in the goals and operations of work first not only to their own staff but also to staff of outside service providers and partner agencies. In addition, administrators may wish to provide staff with training about other programs and benefits that might affect participants as they move to work, such as transitional benefits, the Earned Income Credit, and income-based housing subsidies.
It is often difficult to find the time and resources to devote to extensive staff training. Some programs have made use of free local resources-for example, by borrowing space at a community college or finding individuals with relevant expertise from community social service agencies or employment services to conduct training sessions. Training can also be done in stages, beginning with the program message and the most immediate skill needs, then reinforcing the message and adding other skills as the program develops. Remember, too, that you can use other forums besides formal training-such as daily supervision and encouraging diverse staff to learn from each other-to communicate key program messages and teach staff relevant skills.
Other suggestions for training include:
- Combine classroom training for new staff with on-the-job training.
- Provide regular, ongoing training, identifying training needs by getting suggestions from line staff and supervisors.
- Bring staff together regularly, without a formal training agenda, to discuss issues and to share ideas and best practices.
- Have managers and supervisors reinforce the main messages from training once staff are back at the office.
- Relate training to the program's goals and explain how it will help staff achieve those goals.
- Use training to bring information back to administrators, including trainees' suggestions for ways to improve the program and make the jobs of staff easier.
- Provide training on cultural diversity related to the social identities and characteristics of participants.
- If you do not have in-house expertise on a particular issue, bring in outside trainers (for example, someone from a staffing service to train job developers).
- Publicize the purpose of training sessions beforehand, so that staff and supervisors can make decisions about who should attend.
- When possible, schedule training for a variety of days in order to give staff options on when to attend.