One of the most essential steps in helping individuals make the
transition from welfare or underemployment to permanent employment
and self-sufficiency is to identify barriers that are preventing
them from obtaining and keeping good jobs.
Employment barriers for welfare recipients and other low-income
workers may range from childcare, transportation, and emergency
financial needs to domestic violence, mental health, and substance
abuse. Having more than one of these barriers often means an individual
will be more likely to cycle on and off welfare. These individuals
need careful assessment, custom-designed service strategies, and
more targeted case management and monitoring. Often, voucher recipients
with multiple barriers require far more support than PHAs can offer
However, for voucher recipients with only one or two barriers, PHAs
and partners can provide successful assistance by using the following
steps, adapted from a program created by WorkNet Training Services:
Step 1: Identify the barrier. Unless you and the voucher
recipient agree on what the barrier is, you cannot begin to solve
the problem. Identifying the barrier means using an effective
assessment instrument. For more information on intake and assessment
strategies, visit the Enterprise
Foundation's Web site and view the Enterprise Resource Database
Step 2: Identify the recipient's perception of the barrier.
Once you have identified the barrier, you need to determine how
the voucher recipient views the problem in order to come up with
a strategy for resolving it. Some recipients are unaware of the
barrier, while others think it cannot be solved. Still others
feel it is the employer's problem, not theirs. By understanding
the voucher recipient's view of the barrier, you will agree more
quickly on a strategy to resolve the problem.
Step 3: Determine which approach to use in addressing the
barrier. Consider the following four basic "approaches"
for overcoming barriers:
- Provide a resource. Perhaps the voucher recipient needs to
improve his or her English speaking skills. Maybe the recipient
needs assistance with childcare or transportation. Or perhaps
the recipient just needs some new clothes. There are many resources
available to help voucher recipients with such barriers. PHAs
may offer some of these services directly or refer voucher recipients
to resources that are available in the community.
- Adjust the voucher recipient's outlook. Employers often list
attitude as a chief concern. Even if very skilled, a voucher
recipient with a negative or combative attitude may have more
trouble finding or keeping a job than someone with a positive
- Teach a new skill. Providing a voucher recipient with some
computer or customer service training can often be the difference
between getting hired or not. Contact your local One Stop career
center or community college for information on these and other
- Develop an explanation. Voucher recipients who have large
gaps in their employment history or who have been fired from
previous jobs need to think through how they will explain this
history to a potential employer. Voucher recipients need to
prepare their responses to employment history questions before
an interview, including how they have since addressed the problems.
Step 4: Identify an employer's requirements. A significant
part of the challenge associated with job retention is ensuring
that voucher recipients are well-matched with jobs to begin with.
For example, voucher recipients who lack good communication and
interpersonal skills may not be quite as successful in jobs with
these skill requirements (i.e., a receptionist position). While
an employer may be willing to train someone who has the proper
attitude, PHAs and their partners can assist voucher recipients
further by researching job openings to determine which ones offer
the best match.
Step 5: Conduct a skills assessment. PHAs and their partners
can help voucher recipients identify their strongest skills and
qualities. For example, does a recipient like working with people?
Is he or she good with numbers? Helping voucher recipients identify
instances in previous jobs or activities that demonstrate their
skills can also help them understand how they can apply the skills
they currently have to a new job.
Step 6: Eliminate employers' concerns. Employers tend
to believe that a person often repeats past mistakes. It is important
to help voucher recipients deal honestly with negative situations
in their employment or personal history, explaining what happened
and why it will never happen again. For example, ex-offenders
must be able to convince an employer how they have changed and
why they would be a productive and loyal employee.
Step 7: Turn Candidate's Barriers into Selling Points.
Teaching voucher recipients how to turn a barrier into a strength
is an important lesson. It provides them with a selling point
and helps restore self-respect. For example, a recovering substance
abuser could explain to a prospective employer that the recovery
experience has helped him or her become much more aware of his
or her goals and priorities.
Step 8: Putting it together in the recipient's words. This
step is about helping the voucher recipient communicate effectively
with prospective employers. Job seekers come across more honestly
and persuasively if they explain themselves in their own words
and articulate real-life examples from past experiences. In addition,
voucher recipients need to practice. Pre-interview preparation
often gives job candidates the extra advantage needed to secure
For more information on helping voucher recipients overcome barriers
to employment, send an e-mail to WorkNet Training Services at firstname.lastname@example.org.