As a participant's first experience with work first, the orientation plays a crucial role in setting the tone for the program as a whole. In general, the orientation should accomplish three core things:
- Briefly describe the program to give participants an idea of what they will do and what will be expected of them
- Convey a clear message about the program's goals and explain why those goals are important
- Market the opportunities presented by the program and motivate participants to begin their job search
Unfortunately, these core purposes are often lost sight of because orientations try to accomplish too much and get bogged down in details. Orientation frequently is used for myriad other tasks, from administering assessment tests to filling out extensive paperwork.
Orientation is also the point in welfare-to-work programs where participation falls off the most; programs report that typically, as many as half of those scheduled for orientation fail to attend. It is worthwhile, therefore, to focus effort and resources on marketing, communication, and follow-up to bring people in to orientation. (See also section 33, on maximizing participation.)
Ideas for Effective Orientations
- Keep the orientation as simple as possible, so that the basic message gets through. Assess all elements of your orientation and decide what you really do and do not need, and what can be simplified. For example, are assessment tests really needed at this stage if virtually everyone is going into job search? Can program rules be rewritten from long paragraphs in legalese to lists in plain English? Can some forms be consolidated or combined?
- Use a skilled and trained presenter who can energize participants and get across the program message. Good presenters can manage to weave the message into the paperwork and other elements, pull out the most important points and make them stick, and motivate participants with their own enthusiasm.
- Keep the orientation short and to the point. You may want to consider using the orientation to focus on the message and motivation, with only a brief description of what the program entails and little if any paperwork. The orientation will be short-perhaps an hour or less-but it can get across the work first concept and motivate participants. It can also make the program feel different from others that participants may have been through before. However, it is then up to case managers to go over the program requirements and paperwork with participants individually.
- Integrate the orientation with the initial assessment or the first day of job club. Some programs find that a separate orientation is not necessary and that case managers or job club facilitators can most effectively get across the program message. This has the added benefit of eliminating a step in the program flow, thereby saving staff time in scheduling participants and eliminating a dropout point for participation. However, it can complicate scheduling, and it risks losing uniformity in the information and message that participants receive. Moreover, if the orientation is integrated with job club, make sure that time and assistance are available for participants who need to arrange child care and take care of other matters that generally are addressed before participants begin their job search.
Additional Orientation Suggestions
- Reward those who arrive on time by starting on time. Have something for people to begin to work on right away, and after a certain time require latecomers to reschedule.
- Brainstorm about the benefits-financial and otherwise-of going to work. This can set a positive tone and give people their own motivations for participating. (See also section 34, on motivating participants.)
- Make the orientation interactive by asking questions and involving participants in other ways. If there is a lot of material to read, having participants take turns reading aloud can hold people's attention better than if the presenter reads everything.
- Use multiple speakers, videos, or other tools to diversify the presentation and to break up a long session.
- Ask a guest speaker who has been through the program to tell her success story. A former welfare recipient can be the best salesperson for the program.
- Have a child care specialist describe available options and answer any questions parents may have.
- Have a job developer stop in to announce current openings. This can demonstrate that the opportunities you are marketing are real.
- End on a positive note by discussing ways the program will support participants' move to work.
- Make sure people leave knowing exactly what is expected of them, what their next step will be (such as a scheduled meeting with their case manager or an activity assignment), and whom to call with any follow-up questions.