WorkWise Program Connects Single Welfare Mothers with Jobs in City, Surrounding Counties

Philadelphia’s WorkWise Program targets single mothers on welfare who have limited or no work history and who may have serious family and personal problems. The Program provides a full range of job readiness, preparation, placement, retention and support services, including on-site job coaching. Services are designed to overcome the problems that are barriers to employment; most job placements are in the suburbs surrounding the City.

Operated by the Philadelphia Mayor’s Office of Community Services and funded by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania’s Department of Public Welfare, the WorkWise Program provides single mothers on welfare with job readiness training, job matching and on-site coaching to encourage job retention. Eighty percent of those who have been placed in jobs by the program now work in Philadelphia’s surrounding suburbs.

Participants are referred to the program by local welfare offices; they are single mothers with limited or no work history and no more than nine years of formal schooling. Other problems they may be facing include: a sustained adult living experience at or below the federal poverty level; reading at or below a sixth-grade level; a history of domestic abuse, incest or other family violence; a weak or non-existent family support network; and a spouse or partner who may find their transition to work a threat. The 11 core services provided by WorkWise are:

  • Culturally Competent Client Intake – The intake process is respectful of the participants and helps them see how their personal dreams can be realized by building a work history and financial assets. Intake is performed by case managers who themselves have succeeded in breaking the cycle of poverty by entering the labor force.
  • Nationally Normed Assessment of Aptitudes, Interests, Skills and Competencies – The Philadelphia Private Industry Council serves as a partner in this project; the PIC provides a reading/comprehension assessment, Adult Basic Literacy Evaluation (ABLE), and a computerized aptitude and interest inventory, APTICOM.
  • Professional Case Management Support – In 1986 the Mayor’s Office of Community Services (MOCS) was selected to design a case management model for providing services to homeless and potentially homeless persons. MOCS led the nation in the creation of a multi-level case management program, and the leader of this decade-long effort serves as the case management supervisor for WorkWise.
  • "State of the Art" Job Readiness Training – Key components of job readiness training include motivational sessions, which focus on building self-confidence; workforce orientation, which addresses acceptable work habits and norms; appropriate relationships, which examine relationships with co-workers and supervisors; and workplace terminology, which introduces clients to the language of the job.
  • Intensive Conflict Resolution Training – A skills development seminar is integrated into the job readiness training model to address common workplace issues, with emphasis on class and race issues.
  • Multi-media Seminar on Office Technology – Videotapes, technical specialists and CD Rom software packages build participants’ comfort with the vocabulary of the new workplace and ensure that they are at least visually familiar with the components of workplace technology.
  • Professional and Computer-assisted Job Search and Job Matching – Job developers create a pool of positions available to participants, in addition to ensuring that participants are prepared for job interviews. The job developers drive out to suburban commercial districts which are located along public transportation routes to identify job openings and schedule interviews for program participants.
  • Individualized On-site Job Coaches for Employed Participants – Each employed participant, or each group of participants on a given work site, has a job coach present at their place of employment for two weeks.
  • Personalized Support for Community Service Participants – Individuals with no work history who do not demonstrate work-ready behavior are placed in community service positions. Non-profit organizations that make a commitment to provide job coaching and additional readiness training on their work sites are able to take advantage of the community service slots.
  • Computer Literacy Drop-in Center – MOCS has arranged through partnership agencies for computer labs to be made available to participants in the evening and on weekends so that participants are able to build their computer literacy skills during their non-work hours.
  • Referral to Support Services with Regular Follow-Up on Participants’ Progress – The participants’ contact with support agencies is encouraged and regularized so that they develop a network of support services needed to sustain their success in the workforce.

Within eight weeks of the their referral to the program, participants begin working with job developers and going for job interviews. Their training continues during their job search.

The program began in September 1996. At the end of its first 18 months of operation, 743 participants had been enrolled. Of these, 347 (47 percent) had been placed in jobs; the retention rate for this group is 70 percent. The other participants had either gone on to further training or had found jobs on their own. Just 15 percent of the participants had returned to the welfare rolls.

"The WorkWise Program has exceeded our expectations," says Philadelphia Mayor Edward Rendell. "This success is attributable to the excellent working relationships among the Mayor’s Office of Community Service, the Private Industry Council of Philadelphia, the local County Assistance Office and the business community, and to the innovative training and case management services that participants receive."

Contact: Leon Simmons, Director, WorkWise Program, (215) 685-2980

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