While there is no single work first program model, most share the same core components and the same basic sequence of activities. This section describes the basic work first model and some variations that program planners may wish to consider. Sections 7-9 discuss options for child care, transportation, and other support services; participation requirements; and mandates and sanctions. Section 10 provides a blueprint for how program planners can tailor a work first approach to reflect different priorities and goals.
Figure 1 presents an example of the flow of work first participants through common program components. Below is a brief description of each of the components, which are discussed in detail in sections 23-31. Not all programs include all these components, and some vary the order of activities.
- Applicant job search. Some programs precede work first with an applicant job search, to divert some applicants from coming on welfare and to send a message to all applicants about the goal of employment.
- Orientation. The actual work first program begins with an orientation, which can vary in length and content across programs and may be integrated with the initial assessment or the first day of job club.
- Initial assessment. The initial assessment is generally limited to identifying and addressing immediate barriers to participation and employment, such as lack of child care or scheduled court appearances. Some participants may also be identified for exemption or deferral at this point.
- Job club. In keeping with the work first philosophy of quick entry into the labor market, the first program activity for participants is usually group job search (in the form of job clubs), sometimes supported by job development.
- In-depth assessment. An in-depth assessment is generally reserved for those who do not find jobs through job search. The goal of the in-depth assessment is to identify additional activities that will help the participant get a job as quickly as possible.
- Next steps. The variation among work first programs mostly occurs at this point. Program planners need to devote some thought to what services and activities will be available to those participants who have not found employment through the initial job search. Common post-job-search activities include: education or training; work experience or subsidized work; or additional job search. Job developers and case managers may also work more closely with participants at this point.
- Renewed job search. In the context of work first, the "next step" activities are generally short term and are followed immediately by additional job search, as the labor market is constantly tested and retested. This is a critical point for work first programs. Close monitoring and follow-up are necessary to ensure that participants remain on track as they move through multiple activities.
- Retention and reemployment services. Some programs provide services aimed at helping participants succeed in jobs once they have found them. These services include preparing participants ahead of time for what they may experience on the job and providing assistance after they leave welfare for work. Some programs also offer reemployment assistance, to help those who lose their first job find another one quickly.
Not all programs will choose to incorporate all these activities, and some programs may choose to add others or to alter the order of activities. Participants can also conduct concurrent activities-for example, by combining education with part-time employment, or work experience with continued job search. Concurrent activities can be a useful way of allowing participants to improve their skills and enhance their opportunities, while still promoting the employment goal. The design of other policies and services-including child care, transportation, and other supports, as well as financial incentives and other strategies to make work pay-completes the program mix.