The National Association of State Workforce Agencies (NASWA) has just issued a statement recommending that Congress restore funding for Workforce Investment Act programs to their 2005 levels. What's the administration proposing? Check here and here.
The National Association of State Workforce Agencies (NASWA) has just issued a statement recommending that Congress restore funding for Workforce Investment Act programs to their 2005 levels. What's the administration proposing? Check here and here.
I was doing some research on job satisfaction when I ran across this fascinating study of Job Satisfaction Among TANF Leavers (2006) by Jeff Scott at the U of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign School of Social Work. Since passage of "welfare reform" (the 1996 PRWORA), recipients of Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) have been required to engage in work in order to receive benefits, and they've been given a five year time limit on welfare. As a result, large numbers have left the welfare rolls and gone to work.
Scott's survey of 1998 TANF leavers in Illinois found the vast majority to be satisfied with their jobs. 80% reported they were somewhat or very satisfied. Perhaps the most striking finding was that the longer they'd been on welfare, the more satisfied they were with their jobs. Among the other highlights:
Some of these findings might seem obvious. However, among a group of single mothers earning median wages of $7 an hour at jobs they'd had for six months or less, these findings suggest we might need to rethink some of our preconceived notions about people on welfare. Scott puts it this way:
Discovering high job satisfaction levels in the sample is especially interesting given the widespread notion that the poor lack interest in working. A popular belief that fueled the original debate on the need to reform the American welfare system was that dependency on government erodes positive attitudes about work. A key finding in this study suggests this assertion lacks empirical credibility: Leavers with the longest TANF tenures are more likely to report higher job satisfaction levels.
Scott goes on to recommend that rather than increasing work requirements for TANF recipients, "policy choices would be more appropriately directed at promoting the availability of full-time employment opportunities." I'd add, with good pay and employer-supported health coverage.
This study doesn't look at earnings and whether families are able to "make it" financially once a TANF recipient leaves welfare and goes to work. Iversen and Armstrong's Jobs Aren't Enough explores that subject, and makes a good pair with Scott's study. Both help to dispel myths about the working poor, and suggest how policies could be reshaped to more effectively support people in their pathways out of poverty.
Do you ever get the feeling your credit card company is playing tricks on you? No, you're not paranoid. That's exactly what they're doing. Harvard law prof Elizabeth Warren (bibliography) knows all about it. On Tuesday's NPR show Fresh Air, host Terry Gross talked with Prof Warren about credit card companies and the games they play to try to squeeze more money out of you. It's a terrific primer on how the industry really works.
If your workforce development program includes training in personal financial management (and even if it doesn't), I highly recommend you listen or download this show, both for you and your program clients. Even if you're able pay off your credit card bills every month (in the industry, you're called a "deadbeat"), you'll learn something new here. If you carry an ongoing balance, you'll really want to hear what Prof Warren has to say.
Despite all that's been written about the federal faith-based initiative - both positive and negative - research is only just now beginning to trickle out on the effectiveness of services provided by faith-based organizations (FBOs). Charitable Choice at Work (Georgetown U. Press, 2006) is a new book by Sheila Suess Kennedy and Wolfgang Bielefeld that not only gives us objective data and analysis, but places the initiative in its historical and legal contexts. For a thoughtful, reasoned discussion of the issues and the facts, this book is a good place to start. Its focus on job programs is a plus for those of us in the workforce development field, but its applicability is much broader.
For starters, Charitable Choice at Work reminds us government contracting with religious organizations for social services didn't begin with the Bush administration or with its Faith-Based and Community Initiative (FBCI). Federal and state agencies have a long history of contracting with Catholic, Lutheran, Jewish and other groups. Moreover, Charitable Choice originated under Clinton as part of the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996. So when President Bush says government discriminates against faith-based groups, he has to be talking about something else.
Most of the Bush FBCI has been enacted not by law but by executive order, and little of it has been tested for constitutionality. Supporters have argued that faith-based groups can provide more effective services at a lower cost - in part because of their purportedly large numbers of volunteers - and are more flexible and closer to the communities they serve. However, little research exists either to sustain or refute that view.
Kennedy and Bielefeld set out to begin that research. They analyzed data on contracting and performance of job training and placement programs in Indiana. Outcomes in these programs are relatively straightforward: Did the client get a job? Is the client working full time? How much is the client paid, and are there benefits? They also surveyed and interviewed managers at FBOs and in the government agencies overseeing contracts with FBOs. To just hit the highlights of their findings:
In comparing how Charitable Choice was initially implemented in Indiana, Massachusetts and North Carolina, Kennedy and Bielefeld found that our federal system has translated into wide variation on the ground. Indiana responded by developing a program to reach out to and train FBOs across the state. By contrast, Massachusetts officials reviewed the law, reviewed their record of contracting with FBOs, and concluded they were already in compliance and did not need to take action.
Kennedy and Bielefeld are professors at Indiana University's School of Public and Environmental Affairs. Kennedy, a professor of law and public policy, has a somewhat unique perspective that informs this book. She once ran for Congress as an Indiana Republican, but she has also served as Executive Director of the Indiana Civil Liberties Union. Bielefeld is co-editor of Nonprofit and Voluntary Sector Quarterly and has written widely on nonprofit management.
One of the strengths of this book is that it takes both sides seriously and explains each from its own point of view. If we are to stop "talking past each other," as the authors characterize much of the debate on the faith-based initiative, Charitable Choice at Work can serve as a good starting point. However, the book also makes clear there are points on which the principles underlying faith-based social services will never square with the principles of liberal democracy.
The larger problem, Kennedy and Bielefeld argue, is that faith-based contracting has been sold as a zero-sum game where FBOs must compete with secular organizations for scarce resources. Instead, they say, we should be more concerned about the fact that job training, job placement and all the other social and human services making up our nation's "tattered safety net" are underfunded.
No matter what your opinion of the faith-based initiative, I think all of us in workforce development can agree with that.
Profs in the California State University system voted overwhelmingly to approve a strike if contract negotiations that began in June 2005 can't be settled by the end of the month. If that happens, this will be the largest university faculty walkout in American history, and the first strike in Cal State faculty history. For LA Times coverage, click here.
The primary issue in the strike is pay. Both faculty reps and the administration agree that 25% increases over the four year contract under negotiation are needed to get faculty pay back up to par with comparable institutions after years of budget slashing. However, CFA negotiators say the money being offered by the administration has unacceptable conditions attached that could lower the actual dollars faculty see in their paychecks.
The Cal State system is truly enormous, with 23 campuses teaching 417,000 students, and 46,000 faculty and staff. Professors are represented by the California Faculty Association. Ten other bargaining units are represented by a range of unions, from the Cal State University Employees Union to the Operating Engineers.
In an effort to reduce the impact on students, the plan is for a rolling walkout across the system. Faculty at each campus will walk out for two days, then the strike will move on to the next campus. Negotiations are currently in a post-mediation, post-fact-finding "quiet period" that ends March 26. Turnout for the vote was 81%, and 94% of those voting approved the strike authorization.
I have to admit, I'm not neutral on this issue - a close family member is CSU faculty. This is an important workforce development issue not only because of the historic proportions of the strike (if it happens), but also because of the role of labor unions in shaping today's workplace. This action could come to affect other American campuses facing similar budget woes.
If you run a microenterprise organization, get over to the Aspen Institute's FIELD program right now. They're seeking applicants for their Scale Academy for Microenterprise Development. In partnership with the Association for Enterprise Opportunity and with funds from the Citigroup Foundation, the Scale Academy will select eight high-performing microenterprise organizations to receive $35,000 for one year to fund activities that will help them serve more clients. It will include opportunities for peer learning as well.
You can download the RFP right here, and you'll want to get cracking. Deadline is 5 p.m. Eastern time, March 30.
A friend of mine, Lisa Elaine Scott, recently produced a terrific radio documentary on community-based efforts to build peace in Northern Ireland. In it, she interviews former Senator George Mitchell, who chaired peace negotiations there in the late 1990s. What he has to say about the role of jobs and economic development in the role of reducing conflict is powerful, and relevant to what we do in the field of workforce development:
Where you have no opportunity, few jobs, no hope, there you have the ingredients for instability and violence, whether it's in Northern Ireland or Gaza or the Balkans or any big city in the United States. People need hope. They need income to support themselves and their families, and men and women need work to establish some sense of meaning in their lives. Where that doesn't exist people are much more likely and prone to fall prey to those who would use violence to achieve their objectives. Most peace negotiations focus on security and political issues. You have to. But I think they should focus equally on economic growth and job creation. Because you can't have sustainable peace unless you have economic growth, job creation and the creation of hope and opportunity for people.
So you've always wanted to learn how to create your own workforce development blog but were afraid to ask? You've been wondering how you might use blogging and other Web 2.0 tools to better manage programs, communicate with stakeholders and serve participants?
I'll be running a workshop on that very topic at the California Workforce Association's annual spring conference. The conference runs April 10-12 at the Omni Hotel in San Diego. The blogging workshop will be Thursday the 12th from 8:30-9:30 a.m. Good news is there's still plenty of time to register for the conference.
Hope to see you there!
Not every job is the same, and the Center for Law and Social Policy (CLASP) has launched a new initiative exploring ways to improve job quality for low wage workers. Since 1996 when the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act (aka "welfare reform") was enacted, some 6.9 million people (2.3 million families) have left the welfare rolls and gone to work. Poverty rates fell in the early years, but today there are nearly as many families living in poverty as there were in 1996. Seems that any old job isn't enough to lift families out of poverty.
Opportunity at Work is CLASP's effort to improve jobs, wages, benefits, safety and opportunities for advancement for those working for the lowest wages. They're hoping you'll get involved. In addition to the usual lineup of reports and audio conferences on job quality, they've launched a blog, and they're looking for people to submit innovative ideas to their monthly Promising Policy Innovations contest. And you'll definitely want to check out their New Economy Cartoon Captioning contest.
Title for this post is borrowed from a session at the Road to Re-Entry conference. Cindy Villarreal, Kelli Martinez and Amy Gulley - all of whom work with offenders in Kansas - gave very practical, hands-on advice for addressing the barriers ex-offenders face in getting jobs. Some of the issues:
Martinez highlighted incentives for employers to hire ex-offenders, including the Work Opportunity Tax Credit, which gives tax credits to employers who hire eight types of employees, and the federal bonding program, which provides free fidelity bonds for certain at-risk employees. They report both programs are underutilized and most employers don't know about them.
Villareal and Gulley provided terrific examples of their work and handouts. They work with inmates to create portfolios that they can use in applying for jobs, once they've left prison. I heard about these portfolios in other sessions at the conference. Note to one-stop staff and others: if you discover a client you're serving is an ex-offender, ask if he or she worked on such a portfolio while in prison.
This session and their materials was one answer to a complaint I've had about how advice columns and books for workers tend to focus too much on white collar workers and professionals (see here and here). The advice they offered was more for the types of workers we in the workforce development field see on a daily basis. If you're interested in learning more, I'd recommend contacting these folks.
How hard could it really be for corrections to partner with the workforce development community? Very. But speakers at this morning's workshop say it was worth the effort. Gwynne Cunningham is Director of Specialized Programs in Virginia Department of Correctional Education, a stand-alone state agency not housed in either the education or corrections departments. Marietta Salyer is with the Virginia Employment Commission. They're part of a team of people from all over the corrections, human services, criminal justice and CBO communities in the state that joined together in 2003 to create the state’s Offender Workforce Development Partnership.
Based on what I've seen at this conference so far, their partnership is unique. It's a comprehensive effort to make sure offenders get as much as they can while in prison that will prepare them for re-entry into the community, with an emphasis on employment. Although there are a host of issues they deal with, they are currently focusing on three key barriers to employment for former felons:
Cunningham says the first two years of the partnership involved everyone at the table learning what everyone else was doing. How do you get people together who don't realize they’re all working on the same thing? Salyer spent a lot of time explaining the Workforce Investment Act to others at the table. Everyone wanted to improve outcomes for ex-offenders, and each partner had one piece of the puzzle. They made sure they had everyone from line staff to administrators to ex-offenders on the team. They also did research to map out exactly where offenders were re-entering the community. Lots of people on the team were surprised: They live in my neighborhood?
After her experience on this committee, Salyer believes Corrections should be a mandated partner on workforce boards. She sends staff from the Petersburg Career One-Stop once a week into the local prison to provide employment services to offenders. Both she and Cunningham work on bringing employers into the prisons for activities like job fairs and mock job interviews. Nearly everyone they talk to about going into the prison from employers to One-Stop staff initially is resistant about going into the facility. But once they meet the inmates and realize they’re much like everyone else in the world, perceptions change.
Salyer talks about a need for both "outreach" and "inreach" to serve offenders. Cunningham says that corrections staff are discouraged from leaving the facility, which keeps them from making these kinds of partnerships. She encouraged us to contact corrections staff and invite them to our meetings. Those of us on the workforce development side may have to take the first step.
Their partnership has produced a lengthy booklet that lists every professional license issued by the state, from wastewater treatment to the Alcohol Control Board, and how offenders might be barred from getting that license. They found all sorts of outdated and sometimes silly rules. The booklet provides info on what an ex-offender can do to get licensed – or re-licensed.
One member of the audience talked about a "mini-one-stop" they've set up inside their local jail. Another told about the local ex-offender support coalition that includes human services and workforce members, spearheaded by the city mayor. All of which means these partnerships are possible at different levels, and they do exist, if you know where to look.
During a break I chatted with V., a federal probation officer from Georgia. He has a caseload of 75-80 ex-offenders, and the new emphasis on workforce development in the re-entry process has given him new responsibilities. Now, in addition to supervising those offenders he’s also engaged in job development, reaching out to employers that might be interested in hiring his supervisees.
V. says one of his biggest problems is that outside of Atlanta, most of Georgia is rural. There just aren't very many employers out there, and they're physically dispersed. From this limited pool he looks for employers who are willing to give an ex-offender a second chance, but who won't take advantage of the offender’s status and "treat him like a slave." At the same time, V. has to make sure the ex-offender he's working with is truly ready and qualified for the job.
V.'s supervisees experience enormous frustration when they have door after door after door slammed in their faces. One of them, a man with more than one violent offense on his record, recently came to him after being turned down by several potential employers, and said, "I've tried it your way, and it's not working." Which V. fears means he may be headed back his previous life.
Just a few random notes from this morning’s plenary session.
And from keynote speaker Kim White, Regional Manager for BOP’s Mid-Atlantic region:
In the afternoon I attended a session that included quite a lot on the Inmate Skills Development initiative. It's an effort by the Bureau of Prisons to create an online assessment and tracking tool that everyone in the system described below can use to follow the progress of a prisoner in the federal system. It's intended to provide a dynamic assessment in nine skills areas, generate an individualized skill development plan, provide a match between skill needs and high-risk inmates, and create a database of community resources. It looks somewhat similar to participant tools I've seen in the workforce development world. Most of the people in the room were federal prison employees, and there was a lot of interest in developing this tool. DonaLee Breazzano and Anne Cummins talked about how the tool will work, and said they expect it to be implemented in 2008.
The vast majority of people attending the Road to Re-entry conference are from somewhere in the federal prison system (Bureau of Prisons). Today I met people who work at every point in the system from pre-trial to parole and residential re-entry centers, and learned lots of new jargon. Let me break it down a bit here. Keep in mind, this is just the federal system. State prisons are another system entirely, and differ by state.
Pre-trial: Between the time when a person is arrested, and when they are convicted and sent off to serve time, that person is called a "defendant" and is in the "pre-trial" system. A person might be there a few weeks, a few months or even years. During that time, there are services to try and help that person get a job (if s/he isn't detained), or get a GED or other educational services. I met a teacher from Puerto Rico who teaches GED and ESL classes to defendants in pre-trial. One of her major challenges is that she never knows how long an individual will be in her class.
After being convicted the person moves into a federal prison. It might be a federal prison camp (minimum security), a federal correctional institution (low or medium), or a federal penitentiary (high). Inmates in federal prisons are required to work five days a week, either in service or maintenance jobs keeping the prison running, or at a UNICOR prison industry. Inmates are often required to attend educational and job prep classes. One goal is that offenders will leave prison with an "employment portfolio" which would include a resume, a cover letter, and the documents required for employment, such as a social security card. Apparently lack of these basic documents cause lots of problems for ex-offenders.
Ex-offenders are then passed on to the probation system, where they are supervised by a probation officer who helps them in their re-entry. Some prisoners may be housed for a time in a residential re-entry center (aka halfway house), where the goal is to have the ex-offender working on a job within fifteen days.
Several participants told me that federal prisons have always had programs to help prisoners plan for their re-entry into society, but that under President Bush the emphasis has shifted to a strong focus on employment. I also have the sense that partnerships between corrections and the workforce development system are limited and weak. Seems to me there are some opportunities here for both communities, if we can figure out how to cooperate and coordinate.
If any readers have corrections or improvements on my explanation here, please comment below.
Update March 9: I've corrected this post. Parole was abolished in the federal system by the Sentencing Reform Act of 1984.
Keynote speaker today at the Road to Re-entry conference was Frank Abagnale, perhaps better known as "the Catch Me If You Can guy." Mostly he told his personal story of impersonating a pilot and doctor, writing bad checks and one very clever trick involving a stack of bank deposit slips and a printer. Abagnale says the book was written and the film made without ever consulting him. Today he consults on issues of fraud with large banks, major corporations and governments around the world, along with the FBI.
"I was lucky to grow up in a country where you get a second chance," Abagnale said. He also emphasized the positive impact his parole officer had on him as a young man coming out of prison. Our willingness to give people a second chance is important, he said, but someone has to be there to give a person a helping hand.
The National Institute of Corrections recently published a new curriculum to train Offender Employment Specialists working in prisons. The OES: Building Bridges curriculum is designed not only to teach new skills and best practices in job placement and career development, but is also intended as a tool to bring together OES professionals throughout the corrections community, along with community-based organizations, faith-based organizations and workforce development professionals to build partnerships that will help defendents and offenders get and keep jobs after re-entry.
The training combines DVD and print materials with a live facilitator, and all the materials (except the live person!) are available for free. The full training would take three full days, or individual segments can be used for short trainings. Topics covered include pre-employment, job search, assessment, job development and job match. Experts in the field from policymakers to probation officers to CBO reps to prisoners give their insights in the videos. It's designed specifically for serving offenders, and addresses such topics as how to deal with questions about prison history when filling out job applications. This morning I was certified as an official facilitator for this training. I'll definitely be looking through the materials to see what I can use to help my clients.
This week Workforce Developments will be blogging from the Road to Re-entry Conference on Defendent/Offender Workforce Development in Charlotte, NC. It's hosted by the Western NC US Probation Office, in partnership with the Office of Probation and Pretrial Services at the US Courts, Federal Bureau of Prisons, National Institute of Corrections, Eastern Missouri US Probation Office, and the National Career Development Association.
It's sad but true - workforce development for ex-offenders is a growth industry. 650,000 people are released from prison every year, and one out of every 15 people in America will serve a prison sentence during their lifetime. With training and educational opportunities being cut back in prisons, people who entered without job skills will leave without them too. 68% of people who leave prison are re-arrested within three years. More stats on corrections are available at the Bureau of Justice Statistics.
I hope to learn lots at this conference to share with Workforce Developments readers. Check back soon for more.