Pre-Conference Session: Advanced Employment Strategies (WorkFirst doc)
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Pre-Conference Session: Advanced Employment Strategies (WorkFirst doc)

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Ending homelessness through employment and housing requires a focused effort aimed at building linkages with the mainstream workforce system, using innovative, proven strategies and advocating for......

Ending homelessness through employment and housing requires a focused effort aimed at building linkages with the mainstream workforce system, using innovative, proven strategies and advocating for the necessary resources and supports. Homeless jobseekers with barriers to employment are disadvantaged in the best of times. In the current economy, agencies need better tools and skilled practice. In this pre-conference session, we will help participants make use of new the Community Employment Pathway guidebook provided by the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to create training and job opportunities, explore how hopeFound has combined a Housing First, work first program using motivational interviewing as a cornerstone practice. Speakers also addressed the need for local and national advocacy for financial resources, employment encouraging policies, and access to mainstream services.

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  • 1. WorkFirst WorkFirst is a three year demonstration project to support long-term housing retention and self-sufficiency among 140 newly housed formerly homeless men and women. Eligibility, Engagement, and Enrollment There are three criteria for WorkFirst program eligibility: Clients must be newly housed in permanent subsidized housing for less than 90 days Housing can have no prerequisites such as sobriety Clients must be receiving case management services Newly housed client information is entered into HMIS and an electronic referral to WorkFirst is automatically generated within 48 hours; 100% referral to WorkFirst. Once the referral is received by the WorkFirst Manager, the case is assigned to an Employment Services (ES) staff person. The ES then contacts HousingFirst staff to arrange a time for both staff members to meet together with the client. Engagement with a newly housed client must take place within the first 90 days of being housed for enrollment purposes. For enrollment determination, the client must express an interest in work. At the initial meeting, WorkFirst staff gives client a Welcome Bag which contains a written inspirational quote, a granola bar, chap stick, hand sanitizer, a Dunkin Donuts card, and two Charlie Cards. Staff and client work together to identify any obstacles to participation in the program. After enrollment, the client continues to receive case management services from HousingFirst and begins to meet with WorkFirst staff to build a relationship and continue the conversation about employment. WorkFirst Approach Traditional employment services are based on the premise that a client must be “job ready” before beginning to assist the client in securing employment. The WorkFirst program turns this notion upside down and says “we’re ready when you are.” It is based on the philosophy that a client is ready to start thinking about work at any point in their journey toward housing and wholeness. Often times entry level jobs do not lead to long term employment retention or to financial security. A goal for WorkFirst is for clients to view career ladders and growth potential as a normal part of work experience. WorkFirst will assist people with further training, credentialing or other requirements to move into more skilled and better paying jobs. This requires a long term commitment on the part of both clients and counselors. WorkFirst is premised on the mounting evidence based research that a client’s interest in finding employment is a powerful motivator for helping clients take action in other parts of their lives. WorkFirst understands that a client can begin taking small steps toward employment without requiring the client to be “job ready” in the traditional sense.
  • 2. The flexibility of the WorkFirst approach provides the basis for starting the employment conversation with a client, be it on the street, in a shelter, or in permanent subsidized housing. WorkFirst understands that reaching employment goals is a long-term process and is willing to start the journey with their clients, wherever they are in their lives, to discover new paths towards the goal. WorkFirst holds several fundamental beliefs about working with clients. These beliefs include providing services that are person-centered, client-directed, and strengths-based These approaches to working with clients align with the stages of change applied in harm reduction activities and motivational interviewing. WorkFirst believes that incorporating career development activities into core services is essential for a client’s long- term economic stability. The person-centered approach is based on the work of psychologist Carl Rogers. Rogers believed that all people have an innate capacity for positive growth. This drive may become lost or misdirected, yet with the proper environment it can reemerge. Empathy, genuineness and acceptance are key pieces of the environment Rogers strove to create. This approach applies in several ways in the types of helping relationships that WorkFirst develops with clients. Staff believes that each person can change for the better; this is central to helping. This non-coercive approach values people for who they are, rather than who they aren’t. This in turn allows people to experience themselves in a more positive manner. The elements of this approach are quite simple. Reflective listening, that is paraphrasing or reflecting feelings, without adding one’s own judgment, is essential. The other important piece is communicating one’s own opinion accurately and in a manner that is useful to the person one is helping. For example, if a staff person does not like a choice a person is making, s/he can state that they have concerns and what those concerns are. The worries belong to the staff person; the individual does not need to agree with them. Yet, it may lead to a conversation and understanding about elements of the choice. Client-directed services are simply that, services that the client chooses. Initially, this may mean that the client agrees to meet with WorkFirst staff, to engage in some conversations about his or her life experience, to have a cup of coffee or a stroll around the block. The pace and degree of interaction is dictated by the client. Staff may make suggestions, ask if the individual might consider something, but understand that the client has the right of refusal. As clients come to realize that they are not expected to do something they do not wish to, the “yes-ing” can cease and frank discussions about what a person wants become more likely. The strengths-based approach looks at what strengths, skills and abilities are demonstrated by the client. By focusing on what a person can do, what he or she brings to a situation, a path is prepared for potential next steps. Challenges are overcome by realizing what skills or strengths we have and can apply to a situation. The fact that our clients have experienced homelessness demonstrates a significant degree of strength.
  • 3. Translating these abilities into self-realized work is a key feature of the strength-based approach. Stages of Change The WorkFirst model and the toolkit structure and approach are based on the stages of change identified by Prochaska and Di Clemente. The stages of change are: • Pre-Contemplation • Contemplation • Preparation • Action • Maintenance • Relapse First used in addiction recovery work, these stages have been applied to many other types of change that people wish to make. John Rio, Senior Program Associate for Advocates for Human Potential, applied the stages of change to vocational recovery for homeless job seekers and workers. The toolkit draws on his outline of characteristics of the vocational situation, motivational orientation, and motivational intervention. In this approach, behaviors identify the stage a person is in. Interventions can then be targeted to the particular stage. The stages of change approach in moving clients toward employment mirrors the harm reduction model that holds that any positive change or engagement is a success. Research shows that most lasting change is incremental; thus, small changes add up over time. Toolkit Structure The toolkit is divided into sections based on the six stages of change. Each section provides a fuller description of the stages of change relative to employment. The toolkit is divided into six sections: 1. Pre-Contemplation 2. Contemplation 3. Preparation 4. Action 5. Maintenance 6. Relapse Each section of the toolkit describes the stage and characteristics of the vocational situation. This includes identifying: • Stage Behaviors indicative of a particular stage • Outcomes Key behavioral outcomes that indicate the client is moving toward the next stage of change
  • 4. • Competencies By participating in the activities in each stage, clients are enhancing soft skill competencies needed for entry level jobs • Actions Activities to engage client • Resources Materials, handouts, worksheets to support activities A goal of each section is to provide staff with a menu of activities to use depending on client needs and to provide staff with the flexibility to decide when is the best time to offer menu items to a client. The activities can be adapted for use one-on-one or in small groups. Many of the activities lend themselves to adaptation in the housing situation, thus allowing for reinforcement of any one-on-one work. Resources Resources are to be adapted for one-on-one use, expanded for group situations, or used as conversation guides. Some resources are listed for use in several stages as they can be narrowed down or extended as needed. Resources are drawn primarily from existing employment related curricula: ABE Florida 2001: Workforce Readiness Learning Activities Resource Guide (FL) Corporation for Supportive Housing: Job Seeker Planning Tool (CSH) East Baltimore Pipeline Job Readiness Training Curriculum (BP) Getting There: A Curriculum for Moving People into Employment (GT) Integrating Career Awareness into the ABE/ESOL Classroom Curriculum Guide (ICA) My Story, My Path to Self-Sufficiency, Woman to Woman Program (MM) Networks: A Guide to Expanding the Employment Networks of Low-Income People (NET) Action Plan As clients enter the Stage of Change called Preparation, staff begins to introduce more structure into the career and employment exploration process. It becomes more important to set expectations at each meeting with a client and identify tasks to be completed by the client before the next meeting. To facilitate this a simple one-page Action Plan can be used to document what the staff and client accomplished in the meeting and what each will each do in preparation for the next meeting. It can be signed by both and a copy given to the client at the end of the meeting. The Action Plan encourages the development of clients’ planning skills.
  • 5. Using KeyTrain WorkFirst’s strength-based approach to working with clients includes the use of KeyTrain, a complete interactive training system for career readiness skills, based on ACT's WorkKeys® assessment system and the National Career Readiness Certificate. This online training system provides a means for assessing a client’s foundational skills, helping a client practice and develop new and stronger skills, and identifying career opportunities based on skills. KeyTrain’s Foundational Skills include: • Reading for Information • Applied Mathematics • Locating Information • Introduction to Applied Technology • Applied Technology (Electricity, Fluids, Mechanics, and Thermodynamics) • Business Writing • Listening • Observation • Teamwork • Writing • Beginning Language • Beginning Math By incorporating KeyTrain into the services provided, WorkFirst provides concrete skills attainment for clients and a means of verifying skills attainment recognized by employers. For clients, it builds confidence and self-esteem both essential for pursuing career and employment opportunities. Given the WorkFirst approach of engaging with clients based on the stage of change exhibited behaviorally, KeyTrain is best introduced in the Preparation stage. In this stage, clients are guided using more structured activities and are encouraged to explore training options and how to prepare for entering training. It is also useful in the Action stage when clients are job searching, planning to enter training, or looking for internships or volunteer opportunities. KeyTrain will help them hone their skills and, depending on progress attained, prepare to take the ACT/WorkKeys test and receive a certificate of skill attainment to share with an employer. It is also useful in the Maintenance stage when clients are thinking about advancement opportunities and identifying skills needed. Because many clients have had negative experiences with school, assessments, and testing in general, it is advisable to slowly introduce clients to KeyTrain. A framework for the conversation is the concept of life-long learning. All workers will need to be continually improving or upgrading their skills throughout their work lives. KeyTrain is one step in helping people be successful in their careers. A method for becoming familiar with skill levels needed for occupations is to have them first explore occupations using ACT’s World-of-Work interactive map. KeyTrain is correlated with ACT so the skills described and ranked in the World-of-Work map match
  • 6. those in KeyTrain’s lessons. The World-of-Work map can be found at: http://www.act.org/wwm/index.html As an Instructor in KeyTrain you can: • Assign a pre-test for any skill to help determine and generate the appropriate lesson level for that skill; • Manually assign skill lessons at a particular level; • Track client progress through the Reports function. Listed below are ways to use KeyTrain when working with a client: • Build confidence by observing and identifying the client’s strongest KeyTrain skill(s) and then ask the client to take the assessment test for that skill. By working from a strength based mode you can encourage the client to build on that strength through KeyTrain lessons and to be more receptive to assessment of other skills. • When a client is thinking about possible jobs or occupations, you may want to confirm their skill levels. Use the job profiles guide to decide which skills assessments are key for the job. Start with the one the client or staff thinks is the strongest for the client. Depending on the gap, between skills needed and skills a client has, assign skills lessons. If the gap is too wide to be easily closed in a short period of time, use this as an opportunity to do a reality check with the client about the occupational match. Help the client explore additional occupations. This is also a good time to talk about longer term training options to help close the gap. • Use the “Search ACT Job Profiles” function in several ways. Clients can search by location, job category, and/or skill levels. It works best to identify the area for the search as “both national and local”. If “local” alone is marked there are few jobs identified. o For wide skills gaps between a job and a client’s skills, use the function to identify jobs that better match a client’s current skills. o Search by job category, not skill level, to identify careers of interest and then use that to plan on training needed. • When a client says they have certain skills or performed certain tasks in previous jobs or volunteer positions and verification is needed. Assign the lesson(s) that best match the skills described. If the client’s skills are assessed at a lower level than anticipated by the client, use it as an opportunity to talk about how skills become rusty when not used consistently. The positive note is that skills can be regained. Assign lessons to help client begin practicing one of the skills. • Identifying job training programs and then targeting areas for development to meet entrance skills criteria.
  • 7. Once clients have attained skill proficiency at the desired level based on KeyTrain results, clients can proceed to take the ACT/WorkKeys tests for those job skills. If they succeed in meeting the skill level, then they receive a WorkKeys summary report verifying that they meet the standards recognized by employers. This summary report can be included when submitting a resume or a job application. It can also be part of a employment portfolio shared during a job interview or education or training program interview. Portfolio of Success Staff will guide clients in developing a portfolio of success using the activities and handouts in the WorkFirst toolkit. The portfolio is a portable description of a client’s skills, interests, and educational and occupational goals. The portfolio can serve as an effective tool for clients as they advocate for themselves in both educational and occupational arenas. The portfolio includes: • Discovery Cards • Checklists of skills, interests, and abilities • Community resources map • Practice application for job or a training program • Evaluations from internships or volunteer positions • KeyTrain and WorkKeys results • Resume and cover letter Post Placement Services Services offered and activites conducted after placement in a job to facilitate: • Job retention- keeping a certain job, addressing the barriers and issues effecting the job retention • Labor force attachment- maintaining good employment track records • Career advancement – developing new skills leading to promotion within the same or new workplace, or new workplace in the same industry Retention Services Reflective of the Private/Public Venture (P/PV) Employment Retention Essentials best practices: • Focus on retention continuously – make it clear to participants that getting a good job, keeping it and advancing are the goals • Develop a trusting relationship with your clients – relationships aimed at helping people keep their jobs are intentional and professional, but they are also individual • Get people into jobs they will keep – target good jobs; know the good employers; know the right jobs, promote good decision making • Help people establish work history – plan for the long term; work on work ethics and interpersonal skills; check the preparations (self image, motivation); develop job know-how; emphasize responsible job leaving
  • 8. • Provide opportunities to develop skills – promote skills development planning (ongoing self-assessment, information gathering and goal setting); offer a skills building programs; arrange internship; provide access to training • Help people to deal with challenges – successfully adapting to the demands of working (making the transition to work, preparing for the cost of working, facing cultural and economic differences, coping with insufficient friends/family/socials support); respond to clues that spell trouble; know the real resources, make successful referrals • Provide ongoing support – manage the workload; plan for retention time; check with the jobholder; creative contract. “Do you have what it takes?” • Involve employers – become employment experts to understand your local industries, jobs and employers Evaluation The WorkFirst Evaluation, designed by Advocates for Human Potential, addresses three questions that are important to program stakeholder as well as to the larger community of policy makers, service providers and researchers working to improve employment services and outcomes for homeless people. 1. Efficacy of employment services: Does WorkFirst’s specialized, intensive and integrated employment services help tenants in Housing First programs achieve better employment and housing outcomes than do regularly available employment services? 2. Timing of employment services: Do people who receive employment services at different points in time relative to their housing placement have different outcomes? Is it effective, or at least not harmful, to start employment services immediately upon housing placement or is it more effective to sequence them? 3. Cost offsets from employment services: Do people in WorkFirst who achieve employment end up subsequently paying a larger share of their rent with earnings and thus help offset the costs of the employment services?