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Partnership Development Resources - Welfare to Work Vouchers

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 -   Identifying Potential Partners
 -   The Business Community
 -   Public Sector Agencies
 -   Service Providers, Intermediaries, and Other Partners

Identifying Potential Partners

A key decision for new partnerships is to determine who will be involved. For Welfare to Work voucher job training programs, there are three primary groups of potential partners: The Business Community, Public Sector Agencies, Service Providers, Intermediaries, and Other Partners.

The Business Community

Most programs use one or more of the following criteria to identify potential business partners:

Businesses with urgent labor needs. Businesses in geographic areas or industry sectors with a need for workers are natural targets for partnerships.

For example, Tulsa's IndEx program targeted employers in this way. When the Zebco Corporation (which assembles fishing poles) was preparing to leave Oklahoma because of the low rate of unemployment and resulting high labor costs, IndEx responded by offering competitively priced labor to Zebco (and other businesses). Those jobs have remained in Tulsa and provide work experience for welfare recipients.

Businesses with opportunities that match participants' skills. Some initiatives target jobs that match the education and skill levels of program participants. These initiatives tend to focus on immediate employment opportunities, rather than those for which extensive up-front education or training is needed.

For example, the Seattle Jobs Initiative targeted three industries - health care, precision metal fabrication, and construction. These industries were identified as having great potential for employing public assistance recipients by the University of Washington's Northwest Policy Center.

Large businesses. Building relationships with employers requires the investment of staff time and other program resources. Consequently, many welfare to work programs target large employers, viewing these efforts as more efficient, because there is a greater likelihood of a large number of job placements. Large businesses may also be natural partners because of their leadership role in the community or existing hiring initiatives.

Small businesses. In some regions, small businesses may account for most job growth. Programs may attempt to reach out to small businesses individually, or may do so through intermediaries such as Chambers of Commerce, industry or trade associations, or Business Improvement Districts.

Partnering with small businesses requires strategies that take into account their special situation and needs. Focus groups conducted by the staff of New Jersey's Business Link revealed that most small business owners:

    • prefer anonymity;

    • are more likely to get involved if the effort is sanctioned by a trade or business association of which they are a member;

    • lack resources to invest in training new workers;

    • have less time and flexibility to attend meetings;

    • are especially focused on how the partnership will help them meet their bottom line; and

    • more concerned about perceived liability issues than larger businesses.

Businesses with opportunities that pay above a certain wage. Some welfare to work initiatives set goals for placing recipients in jobs that pay a "living wage" or that meet other wage, benefit, or job advancement criteria. In this case, programs need to tailor their labor market analyses to find businesses or industries with jobs that not only pay above those levels, but that also offer positions commensurate with the skill levels of participants (or for which participants can become ready with a limited amount of education and training).

Employers required to hire additional or disadvantaged workers. Businesses receiving government assistance through economic development programs, such as Empowerment Zones, are often required to create new jobs or hire disadvantaged workers (and may also receive financial incentives for doing so). These businesses are natural candidates for partnerships.

Businesses with a commitment to community service or welfare reform. Businesses with established track records of community service are likely partners. Even if such employers are not able to hire program participants, they can help engage other employers and provide information about the local business environment.

Public Sector Agencies

Many public agencies may have roles in welfare to work efforts, including agencies involved in social services, workforce issues, and economic development. The following list of prospective public partners may not directly match the structure or roles of public agencies in your state or county. These roles differ from place to place and are also changing as a result of welfare reform and other restructuring efforts.

Welfare departments. The state or county welfare agency is an obvious partner in any initiative. It brings access to participants as well as knowledge of previous welfare to work efforts. Take the time to learn about the internal structure of this agency. For example, are welfare to work activities located within a specific unit or are they integrated throughout the agency? What services are contracted out to other providers?

Labor departments. In some states and counties, the labor department is responsible for implementing welfare to work programs or subcontracting with the welfare department to place recipients in jobs. Labor departments also operate unemployment insurance systems and may be experienced in analyzing labor market trends and job matching.

Workforce Investment Boards. Local Workforce Investment Boards, created under the Workforce Investment Act, are responsible for developing the five-year local workforce investment plan and conducting oversight of the Department of Labor's One-Stop system, youth activities, and employment and training activities. They are also responsible for coordinating workforce investment activities with economic development strategies and developing employer linkages.

Education agencies. These agencies include departments of education as well as individual schools, community colleges, and vocational centers. School-to-work programs, in particular, have developed and tested strategies that are relevant to welfare to work efforts. These agencies also operate a variety of education programs that are available to welfare recipients and other disadvantaged job seekers and have access to funding streams that can support education and training activities. Vocational schools often have direct ties to local employers through training programs and curriculum development.

Rehabilitative services. These agencies typically work with populations that resemble the hard-to-serve portion of the welfare caseload, including individuals who are substance abusers, victims of domestic violence, mentally ill, or learning disabled. Many rehabilitative service agencies have employment and training programs specially designed to meet the needs of these individuals. They may include skills training, job placement, and on-site job coaching.

Economic development agencies. Economic development agencies often have strong ties to the business community and can be a source of information about the local labor market. Because of their broad approach, though, they may not necessarily focus on the particular needs of people making the transition from welfare to work or the issues faced by workers in the low-wage labor market.

Local governments. Local governments may also be involved in welfare reform even if they are not directly responsible for administering welfare programs.

For example, the City of Seattle does not oversee welfare in Washington's state-administered system, but did take the lead in developing the Seattle Jobs Initiative. This local partnership aims to promote training and job placement for a broad population of low-income Seattle residents, including those who do and do not receive welfare.

Service Providers, Intermediaries, and Other Partners

Organizations that provide services to welfare recipients and other disadvantaged job seekers. The public agencies listed above usually subcontract with other organizations for some services, such as assessment, job-readiness, education, or training. These subcontractors can contribute their own expertise to the partnership and bring experience working with welfare recipients abd other disadvantaged job seekers.

Other service providers. Other potential partners include local providers of child care, mental health services, clothing assistance, training programs, and mentoring programs.

Employment programs and staffing agencies. Local employment programs, temporary agencies, and staffing services can bring valuable experience to the partnership and can help broker the gap between public agencies and private employers.

Umbrella organizations. Groups like the United Way have large affiliate networks of service providers. These networks can provide the partnership with access to community-based organizations in a variety of areas. Umbrella groups can often also provide a larger perspective on the issues than individual organizations.

Local foundations. Regional or local foundations often have extensive knowledge on issues of poverty, local economic conditions, and social services. Foundation partners can also help with activities such as goal-setting and facilitating communication. They may also be able to provide funding for partnership activities, especially for administrative costs that may be difficult to fund.

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