Helping Participants Increase Their Earnings

MODULE 4.1: Developing an Overall Approach to Promoting and Supporting Employment

FSS program coordinators have wide discretion to determine how best to help FSS participants increase their earnings. Over the next few modules you will learn some best practices taken from several decades of research on employment and training strategies for low-income adults. These lessons can help to inform an evidence-based approach and a set of practices to support participants’ career goals.

We will start by describing some of the limitations of past programs and then turn to the most promising model to date, the Career Pathways Framework.

Lessons Learned from Workforce Development Experience and Research

Here are three conclusions from research that are important for FSS program coordinators to understand in order to help FSS participants achieve their employment goals:

1. Changes in the job market make it difficult for individuals to achieve family-sustaining wages without a post-secondary credential.

FSS © 2017 | U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development

2. Traditional welfare-to-work approaches did not increase employment and earnings over the long run and did not help participants escape poverty.

3. Post-employment job retention and advancement services generally have not increased employment and earnings, with a few limited exceptions.

Information on each of these three takeaways is provided below.

Takeaway 1: Changes in the job market make it difficult for individuals to achieve family-sustaining wages without a post-secondary credential.

Workers with a high school diploma or less have faced unstable employment and stagnating wages for the last 30 years. As the graphic shows, increased education generally leads to higher wages and higher employment rates.

There are three reasons why education is so important:

  • There has been substantial growth in low-skill, low-wage service jobs, but these jobs offer little room for advancement. It is difficult for individuals in these jobs to substantially increase their earnings over time solely through continued work.
  • The skills requirements of jobs have risen substantially so that a post-secondary credential – though not necessarily a four-year degree – has increasingly become the gateway to middle-class jobs.
  • During and after the Great Recession between 2007 and 2009, employers became increasingly unwilling to hire workers who did not already have experience in the job for which they were hiring. Post-secondary education can help job seekers develop the specialized skills that employers seek.

 

As explained in the video clip, these changes in the job market necessitate a strong emphasis on participants increasing their education. Having a GED is often a minimum requirement to obtain an entry-level job.

Takeaway 2: Traditional welfare-to-work approaches did not increase employment and earnings over the long run and did not help participants escape poverty.

Traditional welfare-to-work approaches include “work first,” “basic education first,” and a “mixed approach.”

  • The “work first” and “basic education first” mandatory welfare-to-work models from the 1980s and 1990s generated relatively small and short-lived employment and earnings impacts.
  • The best welfare-to-work results were achieved by a “mixed approach” in which participants got a job quickly or enrolled in employment-focused education or training (typically short-term job training). The mixed approach has contributed to larger increases in employment and earnings, but these gains tend to fade over time.
  • Long-term analyses of welfare-to-work participants found that many remained in low-wage jobs and unstable employment ten or fifteen years later. None of the three approaches lifted participants out of poverty.
  • Job training programs increased participants’ earnings modestly, but the results varied considerably by program and earnings increases were not sustained over the long term.

Takeaway 3: Post-employment job retention and advancement services generally have not increased employment and earnings, with a few limited exceptions.

  • These services may not be intensive enough to overcome structural problems in the labor market faced by low-income, lower-skilled workers: pervasive low pay and unstable employment.
  • Low take-up of post-employment education and training services limits their effectiveness.

The Career Pathways Framework

Having reviewed some of the limitations of past programs, let’s focus on the model with the best evidence for success: the Career Pathways Framework. Career Pathways is a strategy that is now being employed to address some of the shortcomings of past education and job training efforts.

Career Pathways programs have the following essential features:

  • Well-connected education, training, credentials, and support services that align with the skill demands of state and local economies for a specific industry sector or cluster of occupations. An example might be health care services or a particular manufacturing industry that offers jobs in your area.
  • Multiple entry and exit points so that individuals with varying levels of education and job experience can enter the pathway, receive the services they need to successfully earn in-demand credentials, and move into the next level of employment.

The Career Pathways Framework

The Career Pathways framework emphasizes four basic approaches:

  1. Sectoral Training
  2. Contextualized and Accelerated Basic Skills Instruction
  3. Structured Pathways through Education and Training
  4. Enhanced Academic and Career Advising

Let’s address each of these in turn. Click the arrows to expand the content.

Tips for FSS Case Managers to Help Participants Increase Their Earnings

In the first part of this module, we have reviewed limitations of traditional job training programs and promising practices in the Career Pathways Framework.

What does all this mean for FSS Programs?

Here are 5 ways that you can use lessons learned from research on traditional employment and training strategies and from the Career Pathways Framework to help FSS participants make progress toward economic security:

1. Understand your participants

Knowing more about your participants’ work experience, educational attainment, basic academic skills, English language proficiency, and prevalence of personal and family challenges can help you determine the best strategy for working with them. You may have a diverse set of participants and need to customize strategies to a large extent, or you may have groups of participants with similar needs, making it easier to partner with particular providers to help participants gain access to needed services.

2. Understand the career assessment, education, training and job search services available in your community and – if participants are ready and able to find and retain employment – connect your participants with programs that use a Career Pathways approach.

Make sure your job training, education, training, and job search partners understand the local labor market and focus education and training on jobs that pay well (or can be stepping stones to better-paying jobs) and for which employers are hiring. Learn the employment sectors upon which local partners are focused so you can help participants identify promising career pathways.

For participants without basic or adult skills, seek out basic skills services with close connections to post-secondary education and training. (See for more information Chapter 2 in Administering an Effective Family Self-Sufficiency Program: A Guidebook Based on Evidence and Promising Practices).

This video clip underscores the importance of identifying strong workforce partners.

3. Sustained and trusting relationships can help FSS participants develop confidence and persist in building skills. One study found that 43 percent of FSS participants lack a high school diploma, and another 36 percent have no education beyond high school. Skills and credentials matter more than ever. But for low-income individuals, the path to gaining in-demand post-secondary credentials can be long, especially if they start out needing to brush up on basic academic or English language skills and are juggling work, parenting, and school.

The FSS program has an advantage over other employment and training programs because FSS coordinators work with families over several years, offering continuity in the support and guidance FSS participants receive as they work toward their education and career goals. A sustained and trusting relationship will position the FSS coordinator to better support participants in persisting in obtaining additional education and credentials.

Listen to this success story about the role that trust played for an FSS program graduate.

4. When participants are ready, refer them to job search services

Some FSS participants have in-demand skills but are stuck in low-wage jobs. FSS participants’ chances of wage increases are generally going to be stronger if they change employers rather than staying with the same one, especially if they work for a small employer. Consider referring these participants to job search services that help them increase their earnings by matching them with a better job that leverages the skills and work experience they already have. Look for partners with job developers or other strategies, such as sectoral partnerships, for maintaining close ties to employers.

While uncommon, it may also be possible to have a job developer on site, which will be discussed in Module 4.3.

5. Build strong partnerships

Partnerships are at the center of effective employment and training strategies because no single organization has the capacity to provide the full range of services that low-income adults may need, or the employer contacts and labor market knowledge needed to match participants with the right services and jobs. Strong partnerships are needed to connect the dots of employer workforce needs and adult education, job training, college, and support services.

FSS programs can take a number of steps to develop partnerships with other local community organizations. For example FSS coordinators can:

  • Educate potential partners about the FSS program and the needs of FSS participants.

    Spell out what the FSS program can contribute toward helping low-income adults access and succeed in employment and training services, including the FSS escrow account. Ask if they might provide funding for a job developer position, perhaps to be shared among the appropriate partners.
  • Work collaboratively with partners to explore how the FSS program fits within the region’s broader workforce development strategy.

    The Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act, signed into law in 2014 and now being implemented, may provide more leverage for FSS programs to approach partners because it requires workforce systems to focus much more on low-income adults and out-of-school youth than it has in the past.

This video clip describes the process of forming a strong Program Coordinating Committee and leveraging services through community partners.

Please complete this quiz before you proceed to the next module. To take the quiz, use the arrow keys or click the correct answer choice. If you answer incorrectly, you will be able to try again until you select the correct response.
Scores will not be recorded.

1. Which of the following best describes the Career Pathways Framework?

A - The Career Pathways Framework focuses on providing instruction in a diverse set of general skills, rather than focusing on a particular career or sector, so that each participant can pursue a range of careers.Incorrect.The Career Pathways Framework establishes a structured and tailored pathway to graduation, in partnership with area employers, to prepare students to meet the needs of a specific occupation or industry sector.B - The Career Pathways Framework aims to tailor basic skills instruction to meet the needs of occupations in a specific employment sector, relying on partnerships between employers in that sector and education and training providers.Correct!The Career Pathways Framework establishes a structured and tailored pathway to graduation, in partnership with area employers, to prepare students to meet the needs of a specific occupation or industry sector.C - The Career Pathways Framework is a flexible approach designed to maximize the choices that working adults have when selecting community college courses.Incorrect.The Career Pathways Framework establishes a structured and tailored pathway to graduation, in partnership with area employers, to prepare students to meet the needs of a specific occupation or industry sector.D - None of the above.Incorrect.The Career Pathways Framework establishes a structured and tailored pathway to graduation, in partnership with area employers, to prepare students to meet the needs of a specific occupation or industry sector.

2. Sectoral training and academic advising are some of the innovative strategies employed by Career Pathways programs.

A - True.Correct!Sectoral training involves forming partnerships with employers within a particular industry sector. In the Career Pathways context, academic advising tends to be more intensive, with lower student-to advisor ratios. Both are useful components of a Career Pathways framework.B - False.Incorrect.Sectoral training involves forming partnerships with employers within a particular industry sector. In the Career Pathways context, academic advising tends to be more intensive, with lower student-to advisor ratios. Both are useful components of a Career Pathways framework. .

3. What are contextualized basic skills courses?

A - Basic skills courses carried out as a separate class with content focused solely on academics, unconnected to occupational skills.Incorrect.Contextualized basic skills courses contextualize basic skills within a student’s chosen occupation, using workplace examples and technical skills or concepts that are specific to an occupation or industry sector.B - Group instruction classes where students are placed together with other students who have scored similarly on assessments.Incorrect.Contextualized basic skills courses contextualize basic skills within a student’s chosen occupation, using workplace examples and technical skills or concepts that are specific to an occupation or industry sector.C - Basic education courses taught using workplace examples and technical skills or concepts that are specific to an occupation or industry sector.Correct!Contextualized basic skills contextualize basic skills within a student’s chosen occupation.

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