Partnership Development Resources - Welfare to Work Vouchers
Building Business Community Interest in a Partnership
An effective marketing strategy is essential to forming partnerships
with members of the business community. Potential business partners
must be convinced that a partnership is worth their time and effort
and that they will somehow benefit from the partnership.
Building on these basics, a specific marketing strategy should
also take into account local labor market conditions, the political
environment, and program goals.
Marketing to the business community presents a unique challenge
to staff of public agencies and nonprofit organizations who may
not have experience marketing their services. These basic marketing
principles may be helpful in developing a marketing strategy:
Marketing is solving someone else's problem. Good marketing
taps into the customer's own motivation, offering a solution to
a problem or need. Find out from potential business partners what
their needs are and determine how partnering with your agency
could address those needs.
Marketing is not one-size-fits-all. Different customers
(businesses) will respond to different marketing strategies. Develop
a unique angle and strategy for each potential partner.
For example, perhaps your market assessment revealed labor shortages
at the large plastics factory nearby. Your marketing strategy
to them might be tailored to their need for workers and would
differ from your strategy to a small business owner, who might
be concerned that he or she may not have the time to partner with
The price of your product includes both its cost and value.
Emphasize both the ways you can reduce employer costs and the
value you can add. While the dollar cost of involvement may be
minimal, employers face other costs, including time and risk.
An awareness of market response is essential. For example,
what is the most common question you are asked about your program?
This question tells you what people are looking for - feed that
information back into your marketing message.
If businesses consistently express concern about hiring your
clients because they may be unreliable, you may want to emphasize
the "soft skills" training that clients receive before
being hired, or the success that you've had with job coaches.
Mention these aspects of your program before potential partners
ask about reliability - it demonstrates that your agency is in
touch with the business community and can provide workers that
How Businesses Benefit from a Partnership
There are several potential benefits to businesses that hire welfare
recipients or otherwise become involved in a partnership around
welfare reform. By understanding the needs of local employers, you
can tailor your marketing to show how involvement helps meet those
needs. Here are some of the ways in which businesses can benefit
from a Welfare to Work effort:
- Filling labor needs. According to the Welfare to Work Partnership,
most of the over 3,000 businesses that are interested in hiring
welfare recipients say they have done so to fill labor needs.
- Reducing payroll costs. Subsidies and tax credits can reduce
costs for employers, while the Earned Income Credit can increase
workers' take-home pay.
- Reducing hiring costs. Job listing, referral, assessment, and
prescreening can save employers time and money in recruiting workers.
Unlike staffing agencies, most Welfare to Work programs do not
charge a fee for job placement.
- Ensuring that workers are job ready. Pre-employment activities
can reassure employers that new workers have been trained in the
basic and soft skills that employers often say are most important.
- Providing customized or subsidized training. Partnerships provide
opportunities for underwriting some of the cost of training new
workers or establishing customized training to meet employer needs.
- Providing support services. Stable childcare, transportation,
and medical assistance, as well as post-employment counseling,
can increase employee retention, reliability, and productivity.
Marketing to Employers
As you market your program to the business community, consider
the following suggestions:
- Be enthusiastic, but honest. A marketing message should be upbeat
and emphasize the ways in which the initiative can benefit business
partners, but don't oversell the initiative or set false expectations.
Be realistic about what you can and can't offer businesses, such
- number of referrals;
- skill levels of participants; and
- post-placement support.
Failure to do so may jeopardize your credibility with the entire
business community and hinder your ability to place reliable,
job-ready clients. Similarly, be up-front about what you expect
from business partners.
- Respond to what the market wants. Tailor your marketing approach
to respond to areas of interest or need identified by the business
community in your area. For example, New Jersey's Business Link
used surveys to learn about the opinions and needs of the business
community. They then used those same points (and the language
they were made in) to market their program to the business community.
Officials said this approach greatly increased response to the
- Emphasize the bottom line. Whatever their other motivations
for becoming involved, employers will always be focused on the
bottom line. Remember, however, that there are a variety of ways
to support the bottom line (see the previous discussion). Remind
employers of the costs they already incur for recruiting, training,
and staff turnover.
- Shatter stereotypes. Dispel the myths that the business community
may have about welfare recipients. Some programs have been able
to market their expertise working with the welfare population
as an asset, by pointing out to employers that their low-skilled
employees, many of whom may be former welfare recipients, have
much in common with the welfare caseload.
- Practice good customer service. Make your program accessible
and friendly to the business community. This involves simple steps
- having a designated contact person for businesses;
- using professional phone etiquette;
- maintaining a voice message system; and
- returning calls promptly.
More high-tech ideas
- having a toll-free number;
- maintaining an informational and interactive Web site;
- communicating by e-mail; or
- having key staff carry beepers.
When problems arise regarding job placement or other issues,
accept responsibility and take steps to quickly resolve the problems.
- Be professional. Staff involved in marketing should dress professionally,
and brochures, business cards, and other materials should be brief,
clear, and well designed. In Los Angeles County's GAIN program,
job development staff changed their business card style from the
standard government issue to one they thought would have greater
appeal to business people.
Give staff titles that show the project is important and that
the business community can understand. For example, New Jersey
gave their project's manager the title Director of Private Sector
- Let partners market for you. Members of the business community
are more likely to listen to a message delivered by another business
representative. Once you have experienced success with a business
partner, ask them to take part in outreach to other businesses.
Make use of business associations and industry groups as marketing
resources as well.
- Use the language of the business community. Show from the start
that the initiative is in tune with the business community by
using business language. For example:
- In your outreach materials and presentations, use terminology
from survey and interview responses to demonstrate that you have
heard what employers said and understand their motivations.
- Avoid government acronyms, abbreviations, and "insider"
- Minimize the administrative burden on businesses as much as
- Reduce and simplify business paperwork, from forms used in placing
job orders to reporting requirements for wage subsidies and post-placement
- Use program staff to complete paperwork for businesses.
- Allow employers to fax information or submit it by phone.
- Publicize the initiative and give it a high profile. A high
profile can help launch and market a new initiative.
- In Connecticut, the Department of Social Services conducted
a direct-mail campaign to more than 40,000 employers and created
radio spots to publicize its program.
You can also use prominent spokespeople to publicize the initiative.
They might include:
- the governor or mayor;
- CEOs of large companies;
- local representatives from national companies; or
- community leaders.
New Jersey officials say business executives responded especially
strongly to an event at which they were able to meet the governor.
- Offer quality guarantees. To overcome the concern some employers
may have about the quality or reliability of workers coming off
welfare, consider offering trial periods, during which employers
have limited liability if the placement does not work out. Another
approach is to guarantee satisfaction by offering to promptly
replace an employee who does not work out.
Strategies for Different Labor Markets
Different labor market conditions require different Welfare to
Work approaches. Job search and job placement assistance may be
sufficient for many recipients where unemployment is low, but will
do little good in areas where few jobs are available. The following
points are guidelines for strategies and do not account for the
complexity of labor market differences:
- Low unemployment and lots of entry-level opportunities. Under
these circumstances, marketing to employers may be less important
than developing systems for identifying job openings and matching
welfare recipients to jobs. You may also be able to focus on placing
hard-to-employ recipients and creating job ladders for entry-level
- Low unemployment and few entry-level positions. In this situation,
jobs are available, but they require a high degree of skill. The
business partnership therefore needs to focus on education and
training to prepare individuals for available jobs. Employers
in need of trained workers may be interested in providing on-the-job
training, developing joint training initiatives, or sharing training
- High unemployment and few job openings. In areas with a labor
surplus, employers have less reason to become involved in Welfare
to Work efforts. Programs need to identify ways to benefit employers
- for example, by reducing turnover or cutting costs. Wage subsidies
may be more attractive to employers under these conditions. In
addition, emphasis should be placed on:
- creating jobs;
- identifying growth markets; and
- developing transportation initiatives to get recipients to where
there are jobs.