Applicant job search (AJS)-in which individuals are required to look for a job prior to approval for benefits-has become increasinglypopular in recent years as a component of work first programs. Proponents of AJS argue that it can accomplish two important things: it can reduce welfare costs by diverting people who can find jobs relatively easily from coming on welfare; and it can send a messageto applicants that the goals of work and self-sufficiency will be emphasized from the outset of their contact with the welfare system. Focusing on applicants, however, means spending resources on many individuals who would have found employment quickly on their own or who will not be approved to receive welfare. This diverts resources from longer-term recipients, who may need program services more (see section 8, on participation requirements). You might therefore consider other ways to communicate an early message about the importance of work, and focus instead on quickly moving approved applicantsinto work first.
Suggestions for AJS
If you do decide to run an AJS activity, the following advice can help you do so more effectively.
- Do not require only individual, unsupervised job search. The easiest and cheapest way to run AJS is to tell applicants to look for work during the application approval period, provide some criteria for employer contacts, and requireminimal reporting (once or twice) on progress. However, this is not the most effective job search approach (see section 26, on job clubs). Nor is it a cost-free strategy: even a minimal AJS activity will incur costs for support services and staff time for determining exemptions and monitoring compliance.
- Find a balance with a more intensive, but contained, job search. At the same time, it may not make economic sense to run a full-fledged job club for welfare applicants. One suggestion is to include group activities in AJS but at a less intensive level than in the regular work first job clubs. An alternative is to use individual job search but provide additional staff support, such as access to job developers or work first case managers. The JOBS program in Oregon has set up resource rooms in welfare offices in which applicants as well as recipients, under the general guidance of staff, can access computerized lists of job leads, use computers to prepare résumés, obtain printed material on interviewing techniques, and receive other assistance.
- Treat the job search requirement seriously. Some AJS programs set ambitious targets for required employer contacts but do not follow up to confirm whether the requirements are being met. Applicants will find out very quickly if AJS is essentially a paperwork requirement, and it makes little sense to impose a requirement that you do not have the capacity to monitor or enforce.
- Understand the other needs of welfare applicants. People applying for welfare are often in desperate situations and need immediate help dealing with the crises that have led them to welfare. Even if they want to work, applicants may not be able to focus on job search until they have addressed these other immediate concerns. One solution is to make available resource lists and other information and allow participants to use time and telephones during their first few days of AJS to arrange for housing or child care or to address other needs. Another is to assign a case manager to AJS to answer questions about available services and to provide referrals when appropriate. Some programs also include up-front lump sum payments to divert those applicants who need only one-time assistance.
- Link AJS with the rest of the work first program. Any momentum gained by getting applicants to look for work can be lost if there is not a well-defined and quick next step. If approved applicants do not enter work first relatively quickly, then it might be useful to have some other form of follow-up to discuss the AJS and help clients connect it with their plans for getting a job. The experience of AJS should also be taken into account in structuring the work first program. For example, the job search component may be shorter if participants have already spent time looking for a job, and job clubs should build on, rather than duplicate, skills learned during AJS.
- Assess the value of AJS as you go along. Because AJS is an unproven and potentially costly strategy, it may be prudent to try it on a pilot basis and monitor its cost and its effect on welfare approval rates. If certain outcomes-like the number of welfare applications, the percentage of applications approved, or the number and percentage of approved applicants who are working-have not moved in the desired direction, or if AJS has been very costly to implement, it may make sense to rethink the strategy.