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Employment and Training Program Resources - Welfare to Work Vouchers

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Overcoming Barriers to Employment

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 alone.

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 (ERD).

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 attitude.

  • 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 training courses.

  • 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 a position.

For more information on helping voucher recipients overcome barriers to employment, send an e-mail to WorkNet Training Services at worknetts@aol.com.


 -   America's Career InfoNet. This one-stop shop, developed by the U.S. Department of Labor, links to free online assessments and tests.
 -   Career Key. The Career Key measures interests, abilities, and values, which translate into personal career choices.
 -   What color is your parachute? This site includes tools such as the seven rules to taking career tests and interactive personality tests.
 -   Transferable skills. This site helps identify personal assets and translates them into job-specific skills.
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