Role of Intermediaries in Linking TANF Recipients with Jobs: Final Report. Linking Welfare Recipients with Employers


In a work first environment, the primary work intermediaries are engaged in is preparing TANF clients to enter the labor market as quickly as possible, leaving little room for them to differentiate their services.  More differentiation and specialization is possible for intermediaries that provide secondary employment services.  Since primary intermediaries are generally expected to provide the same set of services to clients, their success is dependent mainly on their ability to establish relationships with employers with job openings, a relatively easy task for most intermediaries in the current economic environment.  Our key findings regarding the provisions of employment preparation services and the strategies intermediaries use to link welfare recipients with jobs are discussed below.

1.  In the current work first environment, intermediaries providing primary employment services are distinguished by their approach to helping clients find employment, their ability to link clients with ancillary services and their approach to job development rather than the specific services they provide. 

Most primary intermediaries provide a standard set of services to TANF clients that includes assessment, job search and placement assistance and follow-up services.  Thus, the factors that distinguish intermediaries from one another often are subtle differences in the way they provide those services.  Many of these factors are significantly influenced by the organizational structure and experience of the intermediary.

Approach to preparing clients to find employment.  For most intermediaries, job search/job readiness training is the primary employment service provided to welfare recipients.  These services generally include resume development, interview preparation, assisted job search, and life skills training.  Depending on the intermediary, job search is more or less directed.  Some intermediaries give clients access to a resource room where they can prepare their resumes and look for job opportunities on their own.  Other intermediaries assess their clients' interests and skills, conduct structured workshops to teach TANF recipients how to find a job and set up interviews with employers who have job openings.  In the urban areas, most intermediaries provide job search assistance to clients in a group setting; in the rural areas, job search is often more individualized.  Some job search programs also include formal instruction in life skills.  These programs address issues such as employer expectations for workplace behavior, self-esteem and motivation, and overcoming day-to-day barriers to work.

Linking clients with the resources they need to find and sustain employment.  Intermediaries vary significantly in the extent to which they provide or link clients with any ancillary services they may need to find or sustain employment.  Intermediaries that provide comprehensive services to disadvantaged families often are able to access a broader range of services for their TANF clients than intermediaries that provide only job search assistance.  For example, TANF clients who participate in Goodwill's job search program in Cleveland are able to take advantage of Goodwill's extensive vocational assessment services while TANF clients who receive job search services from Cleveland Works are able to receive assistance to resolve their legal problems.

To expand the range of services they can offer to TANF recipients, some organizations have formed collaboratives to act as intermediaries.  For example, intermediaries in the St. Paul Workforce Center Collaborative work together to provide job search, placement, and retention services, as well as vocational, high school, GED, and ESL training to TANF recipients.  In Richmond, three organizations, the Chamber of Commerce, Mirror Enterprises and Interim Personnel jointly operate the GREAT program.  The Chamber provides all fiscal and administrative oversight for the program; Mirror Enterprises provides a three-week, 80-hour job readiness course; Interim Personnel provides high-end assessment and placement services through an Employer Job Center.  From the perspective of the intermediaries, a collaborative provides a better chance of winning a contract with the welfare office; from the perspective of the client, the collaborative provides a broader range of services.

Approaches to Job Development.  An intermediary's success in linking welfare recipients with employment is crucial to the short-term and long-term success of the organization.  Finding jobs for welfare recipients in the current economic environment is an easy task for most intermediaries; employers are looking for qualified employees and are eager to work with intermediaries who can supply them with job-ready applicants.  While established intermediaries have already proven their worth to employers, intermediaries that are new to the employment services arena are working hard to show employers that they can provide valuable services such as pre-screening for potential employees and job retention services to clients who are already employed.  Intermediaries believe that their success now in establishing relationships with employers will determine how they fare during an economic downturn.

Job development strategies vary widely among intermediaries.  For some, job development is as simple as filling job orders from employers.  In other instances, intermediaries build relationships with employers by inviting them to participate in job fairs and mock interviewing sessions with job seekers, or by creating internships and work experience programs that allow employers to "test out" clients.  Job developers in all but the most established intermediaries also rely on "cold calls" to employers with whom they have not developed a relationship.

Some intermediaries have developed more innovative approaches to job development.  Both the Center for Employment Training (CET) and the Texas Engineering Extension (TEEX) have a more formalized relationship with businesses.  Employers agree to hire clients who have completed the appropriate vocational training programs offered by CET and TEEX respectively  some employers even donate the equipment needed to train the clients.  In San Diego, the Workforce Development Board encourages business involvement by using Welfare-to-Work funds to reimburse employers who hire and train hard-to-employ welfare recipients.  In Arkansas, Tyson's Chicken plans to offer employment to 200 TANF recipients.  After 60 days of employment subsidized by DHS, Tyson's has agreed to extend an offer of permanent employment and provide a mentoring coach for the first year of employment.

In a few of the rural areas where unemployment remains in the double digits, job development is a greater challenge for the welfare office and intermediaries.  In Wise County, where the unemployment rate is nearly four times the national average, welfare office staff try to develop work experience positions that can increase TANF recipients' chances of being considered for positions when they do become available.  In the face of such a high unemployment rate, welfare staff have been pleasantly surprised at the number of welfare recipients who have been able to find employment when they were mandated to do so.  However, most welfare recipients who do find employment only work part-time.

2.  Intermediaries that provide secondary employment services provide a diverse set of services to TANF recipients.  The focus of these services reflects the priorities of the local community.

Secondary employment services are far less developed than primary employment services.  However, unlike intermediaries that provide primary employment services, those that provide secondary employment services can be distinguished by the services they provide.  While some secondary intermediaries provide short-term training to help TANF clients obtain better jobs, others provide specialized services to clients with chronic barriers to employment or services to help clients retain employment.

Short-term Training.  When welfare recipients are unable to find employment after participating in a job search program or if they find employment and are still eligible for cash assistance, some sites allow welfare recipients to participate in short-term training programs to increase their marketable skills.  A few intermediaries that provide job search assistance also provide short-term training programs.  Most intermediaries, however, only provide short-term skills training; job placement assistance is provided for graduates of their program.  The Center for Employment Training (CET) in Cleveland provides training in shipping and receiving, welding, machine tool operation, and printing.  CET's open-entry/open-exit model allows clients to enroll at anytime, and leave whenever they get the skills they need to become employed.

The local community college is often another intermediary that provides special short-term, employment-focused training components for welfare recipients.  In Jefferson County, Southeast Arkansas Community College provides workplace training to TANF recipients.  The training is based on industry needs and establishes minimum criteria for entry level employees.  Participants in the program also receive assistance in developing back-up plans for child care and transportation.  Intermediaries that provide skills training often train JTPA-eligible participants along with welfare recipients.

Specialized Services for the Hard-to-Employ.  Many TANF clients who participate in job search assistance programs face a broad range of barriers to employment.  However, few intermediaries provide specialized services to address the needs of recipients who face the most serious barriers to employment; many feel that they cannot address these issues in the four-to-six weeks allotted for them to help recipients find employment.  Some of the sites have started to use WtW funds to provide specialized services to the hardest-to-employ recipients.  Using WtW funds, San Diego has created a broad network of intermediaries that will provide short-term training and employment support to the hardest-to-employ TANF recipients.  Cleveland, with 19 intermediaries providing employment services to TANF recipients with chronic barriers to employment, has developed the most extensive set of specialized employment services for the hard-to-employ.

In some sites, the welfare office or workforce development system refers welfare recipients with specific employment barriers to those intermediaries with a history of serving clients with that particular barrier.  In St. Paul, for example, the Southeast Asian Collaborative specializes in serving non-English speaking, ethnic Asian populations.  The staff understand the culture and speak the native language of Hmong, Vietnamese, and Cambodian immigrants.  Goodwill, which is located in numerous sites, Marc, Inc., located in Greater Hartford and the St. Paul Rehabilitation Center all have a history of serving people with disabilities.  Although these "specialized" intermediaries do not have an agreement to provide specialized services, building on their experience of working with other hard-to-employ populations, they often approach providing job search assistance differently than other intermediaries and often receive referrals for clients who have more significant barriers to employment.

Services to Promote Job Retention and Advancement.  Most intermediaries provide at least minimal follow-up services to the clients they serve.  Some intermediaries provide more in-depth post-employment services to welfare recipients.  For example, Marc, Inc., building on its approach to helping developmentally disabled adults make the transition to work, provides extensive support to clients when they first find employment.  Program staff may accompany a client to work to help her complete any initial paperwork and orient her to the job.  Or, at the end of the client's shift, the job developer may meet her and take her home to discuss any problems she may have faced during the day.  Other services provided include employer mediation and re-employment services if the job turns out to be a poor match for the client.

Another intermediary, Lutheran Social Services in San Antonio, provides only job retention services for welfare recipients.  The program organizes volunteer mentors for recently-employed welfare recipients.  A telephone or in-person contact between mentor and welfare recipient usually takes place weekly.  Mentors are trained to help welfare recipients resolve personal and workplace issues that may become barriers to keeping their job.  Every month, mentors are required to fill out a report on how the clients are faring on the job.  Mentors and clients may attend monthly seminars that focus on issues such as parenting and self-esteem.  In Jacksonville, Goodwill Industries provides on-the-job mentoring for TANF clients who find employment.

While many employers welcome more in-depth post-employment services such as employer mediation, other employers believe it is their responsibility to support their own employees and resolve on-the-job problems.  Some of the services provided by employers to encourage job retention include life skills training that occurs during work hours, a $.50 per hour bonus for workers who arrive on time and work all of their scheduled hours during a pay period, and specialized staff to address language and cultural issues for recent immigrants.

3.  Employers value the work of intermediaries.  Intermediaries help employers to expand their applicant pool and reduce their costs of hiring new employees.

Working with intermediaries is one of many strategies employers use to recruit new employees.  Especially in the current economy where employers' demand for employees often exceeds the supply of qualified applicants, employers appreciate having an efficient way to tap into a labor pool to which they may not otherwise have access.  Large and small employers use intermediaries to help them fill vacant positions.  For example, one large chain of retail clothing stores in the Northeast recruits the majority of its new hires through intermediaries.  Other employers that work with intermediaries in the study sites include large hospitals, small nursing homes, hotels, telemarketing firms and small and large factories.

As proof that businesses find the services intermediaries provide valuable, some employers are becoming an "intermediary" themselves  most notably the Marriott Corporation.  In San Antonio, Marriott combines their own money with Welfare-to-Work funds to provide 180 hours of training to welfare recipients over a six-week period  60 hours in the classroom, and 120 hours on-the-job.  All participants that graduate from the program are guaranteed a job at Marriott.  Classroom time is devoted primarily to life skills, and on-the-job training prepares them for a future job in the hospitality industry.  A similar program operates in Cleveland with TANF funding.  In Phoenix, Marriott provides a 60-hour, two week course to TANF recipients living in an enterprise zone.

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