Not all work first programs include job development, in which staff identify unsubsidized job openings for participants. However, many programs that use job development attribute to it much of their success in moving participants into employment. Those participants who have little work experience or who have been out of the job market for a long time may need help networking with employers and may need more personalized attention than they get in a job club. Job development may be especially critical in tight labor markets, to help program participants find and fill scarce job openings. This type of job development may not create new employment opportunities, but job developers who have built relationships with employers can give program participants first crack at available jobs.
Critics of job development argue that it detracts from the message that it is the participant's responsibility to find a job and makes the participant less committed to remaining in a job. They also argue that getting one job on her own gives a participant the skills and self-confidence that she needs to find another job if the first one is lost. Hiring specialized job developers can also increase a program's cost.
In the context of work first, job development can be most useful as an additional resource, rather than a substitute for job search by participants. The following are some of the ways in which job development can be incorporated into a work first program:
- All staff and participants can act as job developers in identifying job openings. At its most basic, job development is about identifying potential job leads that can be used by participants. Even if the program has no specialized job developers, all staff, from receptionists to the office director, can keep their eyes open for employment opportunities. Participants can also be encouraged to bring in leads that are not of interest to themselves but may be useful for others. These can be compiled into daily or weekly lists, posted on a bulletin board, or added to a computerized listing. Such job leads can be a valuable resource for participants as they conduct their job search. In a large city, it may be especially effective to have participants turn in leads to a central job bank. In contrast, having a specialized staff member responsible for development may make more sense in a rural area with few employers, so that the same employers are not approached over and over again by different people.
- Job developers can recruit employers to hire through the program. Job developers can go a step further and develop relationships with local employers so that employers commit themselves to hire through the program. Many job developers view their role as that of a staffing service, providing a pool of labor and often screening applicants for the employer, who is considered a "customer" or "client." For example, staff at America Works, a private, for-profit job placement program for welfare recipients, make cold calls, work existing accounts, network through business associations, and use other means to develop relationships with employers and to encourage them to hire program participants.
In this role, job developers often focus on large employers who regularly have entry-level job openings. These may include representatives of large service industries, such as hotel and restaurant chains, as well as manufacturing firms and other businesses. Some job developers try to target jobs that are high-wage or that offer opportunities for advancement. Some programs also hold job fairs to help connect participants with employers. Despite the possibility of employer recruitment, job developers should be sensitive to issues of stigma. Some employers may be deterred from hiring welfare recipients, and some participants may not want employers to know that they are on welfare.
- Job developers can help match participants with jobs. One resource that job developers can bring to potential employers is their knowledge of the program's participants; by screening job applicants, they can save the employer time in the interviewing process. Job developers can also use their knowledge of employers to help participants by giving them information about the position, the workplace, and the personality of the employer. Job developers often follow up on newspaper ads and leads brought in by participants and staff to find out more about the jobs and what the employers are looking for. Many job developers practice mock interviews with participants before referring them to employers. By knowing both parties, the job developer can help make a better match, improving the chances of success. The job developer can also act as an advocate for participants by recommending applicants who may not have all the stated job qualifications but who the developer thinks will be a good match for the job.
- Job developers can be a resource for both staff and participants. Job developers' knowledge of the labor market can be a major resource for program staff and participants. Beyond just identifying and sharing job leads, job developers can provide information about the types of available jobs for which participants may be qualified. This information can serve as a reality check for participants who may have unrealistic short-term employment goals. It can also help participants identify employment possibilities that they might not have thought of. In smaller programs, job developers can get to know participants individually and tailor development activities to the skills, interests, and geographical locations of participants.
- Job developers can provide extra assistance to some participants. Job developers should be careful to avoid working only with those participants who are most able to find jobs on their own. Some programs refer participants who are having trouble finding a job to a job developer for more intensive guidance. Job developers can use their knowledge of the job market to help those participants reevaluate their search, identify additional leads or fields of opportunity, and improve job search and interviewing skills.
- Job developers can build support for the program among employers. Some job developers become involved in business and civic organizations, in order to create good will for the program and to get opportunities to interact with employers without always asking if they are hiring. The Employment Department at Washington Works, a Seattle-based job training and placement program, staffs an Employment Advisory Council, which includes local companies such as Microsoft, Nintendo, and Nordstrom. The council provides advice on how the program can best serve the needs of employers.
- Job developers can help change the culture of the office. Enthusiastic and visible job developers can add a sense of energy to the work first office, motivate both participants and case managers, and help change the overall culture of the program. Job developers can stop in at orientations, job clubs, and other activities to publicize leads and offer advice and encouragement to job seekers. Some job developers use on-site job fairs to motivate participants and create an employment-focused office environment.