As with education, vocational training can be a part of a work first program and may enhance its success. There is some research evidence that some types of training can increase the earnings of participants, but the research also suggests that these impacts are concentrated among those who might have gotten jobs and left welfare anyway. That is, the training may have helped some participants get higher wages or more hours of work than they otherwise would have, rather than increasing the total number of participants who became employed. One reason for this may be that participants who choose training are highly motivated and likely to find jobs even without training. Another reason may be that enrollment in many training programs requires a high school diploma or other credentials. Proponents of training argue that by increasing earnings, training helps families not just to get off welfare, but to stay off.
The Center for Employment Training (CET) in San Jose, California, is one training program that has produced large impacts on employment and earnings, as well as welfare savings. CET does not require participants to have a high school diploma, and it serves both welfare recipients and those not on welfare. Many of the following ideas on how you can tailor training to a work first approach are drawn from the CET model. If there is a variety of training options in your community, you can give priority to those that include these characteristics. If local programs do not meet these criteria, you can encourage programs to adopt them by renegotiating contracts or using informal pressure. Note also that only training that is directly related to employment may count toward the federal participation rate requirements under TANF (see Appendix A).
Tailoring Training to a Work First Approach
- Make sure the training is tied to employment. Training should be a route to a job, not an alternative to getting a job. Make sure that those who enter training have specific employment goals of which training is the means to the end. Also, look for training programs that share the philosophy that the goal is a job, not just a certificate.
- Look for programs with close ties to industry. This linkage can take the form of instructors and staff with industry ties, as well as an industry role in developing and reviewing the curriculum. Ties to industry are signals that the training program is up-to-date in terms of the job market and the skills needed to succeed in jobs. The best programs adapt to the labor market by continually adding and dropping classes as demand shifts. Ties to industry also mean that instructors can use their contacts to develop jobs for participants and that employers know and value the training program as a source of qualified workers.
- Look for short-term programs. Shorter training programs-those that can be completed in six months or less-are less expensive and mean quicker entry into the labor market. Moreover, participants in longer-term training may find that the labor market has changed by the time they have completed the program. Program administrators in Pensacola, Florida, and Fond du Lac, Wisconsin, worked with training providers and employers to develop new, shorter-term programs for participants subject to time limits.
- Try to begin training right away. As a general rule, participants should not be kept on hold for weeks or even months waiting for a work first activity to begin. Yet training programs often operate on a fixed schedule. If possible, find a program that participants can enter as soon as training has been identified as an appropriate activity. If not, engage the participant in other employment-focused activities (such as seeking or beginning part-time or temporary employment) until the training begins.
- Closely monitor attendance and progress. Step in when participants are not successfully moving ahead toward completion and employment. Try to address the reasons for lack of progress, or rethink the training decision with the participant. Refer those who drop out or cannot complete training to other activities.
- Look for training that simulates a work environment. Make training full time, like a job, and look for programs that hold participants to the same expectations they would encounter on a job. Also, look for programs that teach participants basic work habits as well as job skills. If training is not full time, consider combining the training with part-time employment.
- Look for programs that have open access. Many training programs are limited to participants with a high school diploma or other credentials-the same participants who may be more likely to be able to get a job without additional training. However, some training programs are available for, or even targeted to, participants with low education or skill levels. Some also integrate basic skills with training, addressing any educational weaknesses in terms of the skills needed in the particular occupation.
- Look for programs that provide additional support services. Work first program participants may face many of the same issues when they enter training as when they start a job, and problems with child care, transportation, or personal issues can get in the way of success. Look for training programs that understand these issues and can provide the extra encouragement and support that can make the difference.
- Don't wait for the completion of training to begin job search. Avoid a gap between program completion and employment by having participants begin their job search before the end of the training program. Recognize, however, that this can be difficult for participants in full-time programs, and be flexible in working the job search around program hours.
- Hold training programs accountable for job placement. Look for training programs that have strong job placement records and that formally include job placement. Some programs offer reemployment assistance to graduates who lose their first job. In addition, holding training programs accountable for job placement-and retention-ensures that the training will be tied to employment.