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Learning from Each Other: Providing Employment Services to Voucher Recipients in Newark, NJ

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Agency: The Newark Housing Authority (NHA)
(Size of WtW Program: 700 vouchers)

Challenge

Research indicates that many low-income families face multiple barriers to employment, including minimal education, limited skill levels, and a poor work history. To be successful, housing authorities need to provide Welfare-to-Work (WtW) voucher program participants with a broad array of supportive services, particularly those related to job training and job placement. However, many housing authorities have limited staff and resources to provide the level of employment services that these participants need.

Solution: NHA's Welfare-to-Work Employment Center

When PHAs leverage resources and use staff creatively, they can provide voucher clients with the employment services they need for a smooth transition from welfare to work. NHA's Welfare-to-Work Employment Center illustrates this point. NHA was selected to be one of 10 pilot sites participating in New Jersey's Workplace Literacy Program. NHA's Employment Center is the result of a unique and exciting partnership among the housing authority, the Department of Labor (DOL), and the New Jersey Network (NJN) public television station. NJN is NHA's primary partner and has been integral to the success of the its Workplace Literacy Program.

The center opened in November 2000 and provides key employment and literacy-training resources; both a Job Literacy Program and Job Placement Services are available in the Employment Center. The Job Literacy Program is an intensive eight-week skill-development program that runs for eight hours a day. Students are required to attend the training as if it were their place of employment. For example, they must "punch in" and dress in business attire. Each program session is available to a maximum of 15 students, with preference given to WtW voucher participants who are currently unemployed. Once WtW voucher participants are served, the program is available to non-WtW voucher holders and public housing residents. The program has 15 computers, all with Internet access donated by NJN. The computers also have training software for GED preparation, computer literacy, filing, typing, and some basic job skills training. The "virtual" training available in the literacy program decreases the need for additional center staff.

Meanwhile, the Employment Center's Job Placement Services are designed to help families locate jobs, develop resumes, fill out applications, and access the World Wide Web. Currently, the job placement program has four computers with Internet access. These computers provide direct access to the DOL job bank, which allows clients to post their resumes and retrieve job listings.


In addition, the Employment Center maintains a strong partnership with the NJN television station. NJN has developed 11 major programs aimed at providing employment assistance and job skills training. One such program is called the "NJ Job Minute" and is a video bulletin board listing available jobs in the community. Another program called "Workplace Essentials" is an eight-part series that focuses on skill development in reading, writing, math, communications, and problem solving for those who need a foundation of basic skills to prepare them for jobs.

NJN also offers an online community Web site called, Job Cast, that provides tips to participants seeking job opportunities in New Jersey and also displays success stories of program participants who have graduated from the program and successfully found and retain jobs (http://www.njn.net/workforce).

 

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Program Success Stories
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While the NHA Employment Center boasts many examples of participant success, two participant stories are highlighted below.

Tasha S. is one of the first participants of NHA's Job Literacy Program. After enduring a turbulent and abusive childhood, Tasha wanted a new beginning with steady employment and better care for her children. Soon after starting the class, Tasha accepted a job with the New York Athletic Club as a housekeeper. Since then she has been working as a county court clerk officer. Currently she is looking forward to a law enforcement career and is scheduled to take her exam later this year.

Hasan M. is a single father with sole custody of his toddler son. Hasan's life was previously characterized with gang activity and life on the streets. Upon entering the Job Literacy Program, he expressed a desire to make an honest living and care for his toddler son. While in the NHA program, Hasan received his GED and began working. After working several temporary assignments, Hasan was hired permanently at a large pharmaceutical company. He has since expressed interest in attending community college to further his education.

Implementation

HUD's New Jersey State Office plays a central role in coordinating WtW voucher program
activities in New Jersey. HUD's New Jersey State Office connected NHA to its local DOL partner. NHA applied for DOL funds to support their idea of an Employment Center. Using DOL funds of approximately $150,000, NHA purchased computers and supplies and hired staff for its Welfare-to-Work Employment Center, which is located using existing space at the housing authority. NJN donated a server and computer software to the Employment Center and it provides technical assistance to staff running the Employment Center. Currently, the center provides comprehensive services with only three staff: a Job Literacy Counselor, a Job Placement Counselor, and a secretary. Given increased demand for center services, however, the NHA is considering hiring an additional Job Literacy Counselor and increasing its hours from 8:30 a.m. to 8:30 p.m Monday through Friday and also opening on Saturdays.

NHA is the only housing authority selected as a New Jersey Workplace Literacy Program pilot site and attributes its success to the following:

  • It has a truly dynamic staff person who headed up the initiative and possessed the energy to see it through. This staff person is also an effective job counselor and motivator.

  • As part of its Job Literacy Program, center staff devote 10-15 minutes at the start of each session to discuss the problems or life issues that challenge their students. These discussions allow participants to build a sense of trust with other students and center staff, leading to more productive sessions overall.

  • Students do not have to worry about where they are going to live, which allows them to better focus on important classroom activities. The advantage that NHA has as a pilot site is that, by providing WtW vouchers, it can fulfill a basic need of center participants.

  • Finally, NHA's WtW voucher program directly targets the same group of low-income families that its DOL partner intends to target.

Results

The center has been quite successful, achieving a job placement rate of almost 90 percent. To date, 70 students have participated in the Job Literacy Program. Of these 70 students, 58 are working; four are attending college; four were referred to receive ESL training; and four are receiving additional training. As a result, DOL has asked NHA to expand the program and the contract will be renewed for another year.

Contact: Donnell Brown, Director, Section 8 Program, (973) 273-6231
Estina Baker, Job Trainer, (973) 273-6231

Sources

Interviews with NHA staff, January 24, 2001 WtW National Teleconference.

Additional Resources

NJN Public Television Station Web site
http://www.njn.net/workforce

Online Computer Based Training offered by NHA
http://learnscape.com

 
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