Getting Colorado Back to Work: Transitional Jobs Benefit Business + Workers
By David T. Applegate, Research and Policy Assistant, National Initiatives on Poverty & Economic Opportunity
In July 2013, the Colorado state legislature passed the Colorado Careers Act (HB13-1004) establishing ReHire Colorado – an innovative and forward-thinking transitional employment program to be administered by the Colorado Department of Human Services. Using transitional jobs as the central mechanism, ReHire aims to stimulate the local economy and address unemployment by putting unemployed Coloradans back on the path to work with wage paid work with local employers. In order to implement the program, the state awarded contracts to five local service providers – one being the Larimer County Workforce Center in Northern Colorado.
The Workforce Center serves both jobseekers and businesses through an array of training, educational, and internship programs. Adam Crowe, the Business Development Manager at the Workforce Center, reminds us that “work is such a key component of who we are as humans that I think it is easy to forget about at times.”
Recently, the NTJN had the chance to talk with Adam about the Workforce Center’s success in using transitional employment and strong relationships with employer partners in attacking poverty and unemployment in Northern Colorado.
NTJN: What are our thoughts about ReHire Colorado and the role of TJ in helping individuals along the path to long term employment?
Adam Crowe: The ReHire Colorado funding is some of the easiest to use funding that we have received when it comes to transitional employment. You’ve got to hand it to the Colorado Department of Human Services for having the foresight to think about the need to truly serve people that are low-income but might not meet the eligibility requirements of other already established programs like Colorado Works or Employment First (which target employment services at individuals coming through the TANF and food assistance programs). For ReHire there are only three requirements: the individual or family must be at or below 150% of the poverty line, he or she must be a resident of Colorado, and must be a legal resident of the United States. If they meet those three requirements, then we are able to work with them. This flexibility allowed by ReHire has not only expanded the number of folks we can serve, but it has also expanded the ways in which we can serve them.
For those of us who are employed, we can often take work for granted and forget what it takes to actually find a job when you don’t have one. For most of us being unemployed causes anguish and worry. This anxiety can be a further barrier to employment. At the Workforce Center we can do one-on-one coaching and put folks through four or five different workshops but they still might not get a job. But when you put somebody in an internship you are providing them with an opportunity to sit down with a business and have a conversation. Most of our interns will do two or three interviews. They receive such a boost of confidence because now they have businesses that are actually interested in them and potentially fighting over them! You can have a person who is maybe a little depressed, maybe pretty down on themselves – but after those first two weeks of work, they realize that they have value again and they realize they can do something that they thought they had lost or something they would never do. When we think about these transitional employment pieces, one of the things that is so valuable is just clearing a path to get folks working. Once you get folks working you can start to figure out all of those other challenges and that is why we have skilled staff to help them stay working.
NTJN: The Workforce Center serves anyone who walks through its doors, which obviously covers a broad range of individuals. What do you think public sector providers need to better serve jobseekers with barriers to employment?
Adam Crowe: I am going to give you two answers. First, you’ve probably noticed I am a huge proponent of transitional employment and I think our organization is as well. As I stated previously, it is that very flexible funding from ReHire that allows us to serve a variety of customers. The eligibility is very easy to meet, but it is still targeted to the people who need it the most. Workforce centers need more dollars like that – more flexible dollars.
The other thing I would tell you is that most workforce centers receive our funding in silos and it is therefore very easy for us to silo our services and miss opportunities to connect businesses and jobseekers. For example, our job matching system, Connecting Colorado, can sometimes have upwards of four or five thousand job openings listed. From my standpoint as a business development manager I might not be able to tell you the skillsets of all the jobseekers that come through our door or are already receiving training through a program like TANF. And the reverse is true of the individual job coaches working with participants who might not have a clear idea of all the jobs in our system or which one best fits their participant because there are so many. So one area for improvement is building some sort of conduit and strengthening it so that we can be much more responsive on both sides in connecting jobseekers with businesses that need their skill set.
NTJN: How do you approach employer partners differently depending upon the population you are serving?
Adam Crowe: When working with employer partners, we are very open and very honest with the businesses when it comes to the challenges candidates face and we encourage candidates to do the same. Whether it is transportation problems, childcare, or a criminal background, all of that needs to be vetted up front. We prep job candidates on how to discuss challenges they face going into an interview. A single parent is going to be ready to talk about childcare. An individual with a criminal record will be ready to talk about it in a frank manner and how he or she has moved past that. It is part of our philosophy that we need to train folks on how to have these conversations themselves and feel comfortable doing so.
NTJN: What challenges or implications for individuals with barriers to employment do you see coming as a result of the signing and passage of the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act?
Adam Crowe: I think a lot remains to be seen and if there is anybody in your office who has read through all 800 pages I commend them! One piece of it is that the law is there, but the regulations aren’t there yet – so we don’t know exactly how it’s going to come down or affect us. One thing we have seen from the President and Vice President is an emphasis on apprenticeships. But within that there is also going to be more of an emphasis on transitional employment. There is also a different emphasis on how we work with our businesses and other community partners. For example, community colleges – we may need to start coordinating with them in a different way so we can better create a continuum of services for specific programs meeting specific sector needs in a community. We want to bring businesses, training providers, and community colleges to the table to assure a given training program meets the needs of a particular business. Then we as a workforce center must recruit and fund training for candidates, and finally match these candidates to these businesses.
NTJN: What is one insight from your perspective in the public sector that you would like to share regarding serving individuals with barriers to employment?
Adam Crowe: Transitional employment is very important. But it is also important to not leave out the part about working with businesses. If you can prep a business and get them excited about hosting someone, then it is not only good for the business, but it is far more likely the program participant will succeed.
The other thing I would say is that you have to be really careful when approaching transitional employment not to do it on a wholesale scale. Oftentimes there are high placement quotas. But you have to figure out a way that you can treat everyone as an individual and find out what that best fit is for that particular person. If you can figure out a way to do an individual assessment and you can figure out a way to have a business ready and prepped for that individual, then you are most of the way to success. The rest is on them. And if you have them prepared appropriately, they’ll do well.