Career Tracks Program Places Welfare Recipients in High Demand Occupations throughout Region

In Denver, the Career Tracks program has been providing the training, experience and support services that have led qualified welfare clients into permanent employment in occupations which are in high demand throughout the region. Started in 1987, the program carefully screens welfare clients who will be prepared for placement in health care, social services and child care occupations.

One of Denver’s strategies to move welfare clients into jobs involves collaboration with employers and other community partners to provide a variety of high demand occupational career tracks. Through this Career Tracks program, many former welfare recipients have found permanent employment as certified nursing assistants and home health aides, social service eligibility technicians, and child care workers. They are employed throughout a region which includes the City and County of Denver and Jefferson, Arapahoe and Adams Counties.

The Career Tracks program offers training curricula which is developed in concert with employers. The recruitment and screening process is targeted, identifying candidates for specific occupational training areas.

Health Care Workers – The Health Care Career Track includes the certified nursing assistant program, and this fall will also include instrument technician training. The certified nursing assistant program began in August 1987 as a pilot project operated by the Denver Department of Social Services; it was originally funded with grant funds provided by the Federal Administration on Aging through the Colorado Department of Social Services. The primary goals of the pilot project were to provide skilled and supervised in-home health services to the Department’s home care allowance clients, and to provide training and experience to interested and qualified welfare recipients that would lead to permanent employment and self-sufficiency. The goal of training and placing interested and qualified welfare recipients in permanent employment leading to self-sufficiency remains in place today.

Formal training is provided by the Emily Griffith Opportunity School (EGOS), a local community vocational training facility. Training is offered through homemaker/home health aide and nursing assistant classes which prepare the participants to pass the State Board of Nursing exams for certification as a nursing assistant or home health aide. After completion of the EGOS training, participants may be placed in an eight-week internship assignment at one of several participating health care agencies. These agencies are primarily home health agencies and adult day care providers, and the internships generally lead to permanent employment. For those not participating in the proposed apprenticeship assignment, full-time employment is available with several nursing homes and assisted living centers throughout the metropolitan Denver region. Participants may also enter a one-year apprenticeship as a nursing assistant or home health aide at one of the participating agencies. The apprenticeship offers competitive labor market wages, and all aides who complete the apprenticeship are hired as permanent employees.

In 1996, the City of Denver received an award from the U.S. Department of Labor for the demonstration of this successful apprenticeship program.

Eligibility Workers – In 1990, the Department of Social Services faced a significant staff shortage of workers who determine eligibility for services, and in response, a second career track was initiated. Welfare recipients were recruited, screened and selected to enter a six-month eligibility worker training track as Community Work Experience Program participants. Those who opted to pursue a career in human services were then transitioned into a Work Supplementation Program which offered more in-depth training in public assistance programs. The Work Supplementation Program was a local program which provided a subsidy to employers who hired welfare recipients directly and trained them on the job for a designated period of time. Those participants who completed the Work Supplementation Program were hired as intake workers by Denver’s Department of Social Services as well as by agencies in other counties. Many of the early trainees are now case managers with the Division of Family Employment Resources.

Child Care Workers – In 1995, the Colorado legislature passed the Neighbor to Neighbor legislation which provided grants to Colorado counties to design and implement programs which trained participants as child care workers in licensed centers or offered workers an opportunity to start child care micro-enterprises. The Community College of Denver, in partnership with the Denver Department of Social Services and the Mile High Child Care Center, developed the curriculum and recruitment process for this career track and was awarded a $25,000 grant from Neighbor to Neighbor for the administration of the program. In the fall of 1997, five students completed the program as group leader-qualified child care workers and are now working in the field of child care in the metropolitan area. Second and third classes, now in progress, have 20 enrollees.

New Initiatives – The Community College of Denver, a strong partner with the Department of Social Services, has designed other career tracks which are scheduled to begin in the fall. The curriculum for each track is developed in concert with employers and only in growth occupational areas with high demand. This approach allows Denver Social Services to place all participants who successfully complete the program. Other career tracks to begin this fall include a Retail Career Track and a Financial Services Track which is being developed in concert with Norwest Bank.

Denver has found that the targeted recruitment process is essential to making appropriate matches of clients and careers. Officials say that the screening conducted during the recruitment process is as crucial as the menu of support services provided to all career track participants, a menu which includes on-going counseling and group services throughout each stage of the program, transportation assistance and other support services as needed. Participants are also provided transitional Medicaid and child care as they move to employment.

Lessons Learned– On the basis of many years’ experience with the Career Track model, Denver officials offer a set of lessons learned. Among them:

  • Intensive individual case management is critical. This not only helps clients address potential barriers to employment; it also is an incentive for employers.
  • Applicants must be carefully screened and care must be taken to ensure that their expectations are reality-based.
  • Recruitment, employment planning, access to supportive services, and transitional Medicaid and child care services are critical to the success of participants and appeal to employers.
  • Peer mentoring contributes to participants’ successful transition to employment.
  • Celebrating and publicizing program accomplishments are necessary to maintain cooperation of funders and collaborative partners.
  • Leveraging resources from the community is vital.
  • Advance agreement from all participating organizations on what constitutes success is essential.

"Like many communities, Denver has made substantial improvements in its own welfare program," says Mayor Wellington Webb. "Occupational Career Tracks is viewed as one of Denver’s premier efforts to gain independence for welfare recipients and their family members by helping people obtain the necessary training to be placed in skilled jobs throughout the Denver region. We can now look at the results of this 11-year initiative with great pride and satisfaction. This is a welfare reform initiative that has worked, and is working."

Contact: Betty Sparrow, Employment Resources, City and County of Denver Department of Social Services, (303) 727-2718

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