Many programs use employment plans to formalize the "contract" between the program and participants and to map out the journey from welfare to work. If job search is an automatic first activity, the employment plan may serve mostly the former purpose. Because participants will soon be asked to look for a job that they can get right now, less time may be spent up front exploring participants' employment goals and creating a long-term road map toward attaining those goals. However, case managers can still use the employment plan as a tool to get to know participants and to help them begin thinking about their job search. In addition, the same employment plan can become a longer-term planning tool for those participants who do not find employment through the initial job search.
Employment plans generally contain the following elements:
- Participants' employment goals
- Clear objectives that lead to those goals
- Specific activities for participants to conduct in order to achieve each objective
- Time periods for completion of activities
- Authorized support services to help participants achieve each objective
General Guidelines for Developing Employment Plans
- The plan should maintain a focus on employment. While the plan might include a variety of activities, it should remain consistent in its focus on the short-term goal of employment and keep participants on track toward achieving that goal. Similarly, although the plan might address personal and other barriers-such as getting eyeglasses or dealing with a legal issue-these should always be viewed in context as steps toward employment (see section 36, on dealing with personal and other issues).
- The plan should be flexible. Think of the employment plan not as a permanent document, but as one that leaves room for adaptations and additions as new situations arise. For example, as certain activities are completed, participants may realize that more steps are necessary than originally conceived to reach a given goal. Alternatively, participants may find that they can move to employment more quickly than anticipated. It is a good idea periodically to review with participants the status of their plan and their accomplishments to date, and to make any needed modifications.
- The plan should be realistic. Case managers should bear in mind that while it is noble for participants to aim high, too many goals or goals that are too high may become overwhelming and unrealistic. Case managers should encourage participants to keep goals focused and somewhat limited in number, at least when the plan is first developed. Emphasize smaller and more doable steps, especially for participants with significant barriers or relatively few life skills.
- The plan should be developed by mutual agreement of the participant and the case manager. Each employment plan should be individualized, reflecting the program's goals and the case manager's judgment as well as the participant's goals and inclinations. It should be based on the participant's interests, skills, and prior experiences, and on realistic labor market opportunities. The employment plan should spell out not only the steps the participant will take toward employment but also the ways in which the program and the case manager will assist her.
- The plan should broaden opportunities, not limit them. While the employment plan is meant to be a road map, it should not present only one path to employment. The process of looking for a job can identify both obstacles and additional opportunities that may not have been considered before. The employment plan can be an opportunity to help participants think about what they would like to do and explore the variety of jobs that may fit their interests.
Working with Participants Who Have Little or No Work History
Developing an employment plan may be more difficult for those participants who have little or no work history. Case managers may need to spend extra time discussing these participants' skills and abilities-focusing on what they can rather than cannot do. For example, you can identify the skills used in managing a home and raising children. Also, explore any informal work experience that participants might have, including volunteer work, hobbies, and caring for children other than their own. Help participants identify jobs they can get now, which will be a steppingstone to their longer-term employment goals. Incorporate into employment plans activities that will help build a set of skills and knowledge about the labor market-activities such as networking, mentoring, volunteering, internships, and on-the-job training. Case managers can also work with job club facilitators or job developers to give special attention to participants whose work experience is limited.