In a work first program, assessment serves to identify participants' employment skills and interests and their barriers to getting a job. In keeping with the program's goals, this is a narrow function, not meant to discover or address all of a participant's personal and employment issues. Some programs conduct a formal assessment only with those participants whose initial job search is not successful. Others break the assessment into two stages: an initial assessment to identify immediate barriers to employment or participation in job search, and a more in-depth assessment for those who have been unable to find a job.
The Initial Assessment
The purpose of the initial assessment is to discover and address any immediate barriers to participation in job search, as well as to make sure that child care, transportation, and other supports are in place. Many programs hold meetings between participants and case managers or other staff immediately following the orientation to conduct the initial assessment. This helps to get participants started right away. The time between assessment and the first day of job search can then be used by participants to arrange for child care and take care of any other immediate legal, health, or other personal problems (see sections 35 and 36). The case manager should have some leeway in scheduling the beginning of job search to accommodate the resolution of these issues.
The initial assessment is also an opportunity to start participants thinking about their job search, and to identify job skills and interests. Simple questions can begin to get at this without in-depth testing or assessment. In this way, case managers can turn the assessment around, helping participants build on their strengths rather than simply identifying barriers. The initial assessment is also often the point at which case managers and participants begin to develop an employment plan (see section 32). If scheduling difficulties create a long delay before participants can begin group job search, you may want them to start looking for a job on their own. If so, the assessment should include job search tips that will point them in the right direction.
The In-Depth Assessment
A more in-depth assessment may be reserved only for those who have completed the job search component but were not successful in finding employment. Most participants will not make it to this point; instead, they will find work, become exempt, or be in conciliation or sanction status. The number of participants who need assistance beyond job search may be greater in areas with high unemployment or more disadvantaged caseloads.
The in-depth assessment may include investigation of the participant's skills, abilities, and interests, and barriers to success in the labor market. It may also include research into possible employment options that had not been explored in the previous job search. Even the in-depth assessment, however, should be limited to producing information that will be useful to both the participant and program staff in determining the next step within the scope of the program. Extensive formal testing may not be necessary or appropriate. For example, many staff report that detailed test data on participants' vocational interests do not provide them with information beyond what they know from talking with participants, and may be of little use in situations in which training and employment options are limited. Defining the scope and purpose of the assessment is especially important if it is done by an outside contractor, who may have different assessment goals from those of the work first program.
The outcome of the in-depth assessment should be a plan for the participant's next steps, whether renewed job search, work experience, education or training, counseling, or a combination of activities. Even at this stage, however, employment is still the short-term goal.