Zero Exclusion: Leave No Jobseeker Behind

By Chris Warland, Associate Director for Field Building, National Initiatives on Poverty & Economic Opportunity

Business people shaking hands in agreement

In order to operationalize our team’s belief that everyone who wants to work should have a job, we need to ensure that everyone who seeks employment services receives meaningful assistance.

But that doesn’t always happen.

All too often the people who are most in need of help in finding and keeping a job are the ones least likely to get that help. Instead, employment service providers may be unwilling or ill-equipped to serve jobseekers deemed “not ready” for work or “not motivated” to participate in programming. Or programs may have rules, policies, schedules, structures, or eligibility requirements that make it more difficult for jobseekers who face more barriers to access and remain in programming. For those of us committed to providing employment opportunities to every jobseeker, it is essential to identify and address all the ways in which people can be excluded from employment services.

What do we mean by “zero exclusion?”

In the context of employment services, zero exclusion means making an honest effort to connect every jobseeker with employment, regardless of the barriers they face. It means programs making an affirmative choice to structure services in a way that is accessible and effective for every jobseeker. In practice, zero exclusion means that a jobseeker facing significant barriers to employment, such as homelessness, a criminal record, a lack of prior work history, basic skills needs, and others, would be accepted and accommodated with employment programming that is appropriate, effective, meets their needs, and aligns with their preferences.

Why practice zero exclusion?

Maximizing impact—Serving more “work-ready” jobseekers might make a program’s outcomes look good, but this adversely affects its ability to achieve overall impacts. If a program is providing services to people who could succeed in finding and keeping a job on their own, then those services are making little if any actual difference.

Good stewardship of resources—Related to the point above, it is important to maximize the impact of resources invested in employment services by serving those who stand to benefit them most. This is especially true of more expensive strategies such as Transitional Jobs in which programs are paying or subsidized participant wages and offering comprehensive support services. Good stewardship requires that those services be provided to the people who could most benefit from them.

Equity—The jobseekers most in need of employment services are those who come from underserved and economically excluded communities, which are often communities of color. It is important to be aware of how excluding jobseekers facing more barriers from participating in employment programming is perpetuating and exacerbating racial inequity in economies and labor markets.

How can programs ensure zero exclusion?

Assume employability—Research tells us that many if not most chronically unemployed people can and will work if provided the proper supports and barrier mitigation. That means it is important to avoid prejudgment regarding a jobseeker’s ability to successfully work or focus on a jobseeker’s perceived deficits. It’s much better to take a strengths-based approach and focus on the positive attributes, skills, and experiences that individuals bring to the jobseeking process.

Assume motivation—If a jobseeker shows up looking for employment services, take that as an indication that they are adequately motivated. For many people facing chronic unemployment, just showing up and seeking services requires overcoming a host of personal barriers such as a lack of confidence, and structural barriers such as challenges with transportation and childcare.

Understand how trauma and structural barriers affect jobseekers’ behavior and performance—Many normal responses to trauma might look on the surface like a bad attitude or lack of motivation. For example, people who have experienced trauma can seem disengaged or overly sensitive. When you observe behavior that could be problematic in the workplace, it is important to consider whether the individual has experienced trauma such as community violence or homelessness, and know how to respond appropriately. Moreover, many structural barriers can inhibit successful work behaviors—for example, a problem with punctuality might be due to unstable housing conditions or a lack of access to affordable transportation.

Use assessments to determine service needs, not to screen out participants—Assessments can be useful tools if their purpose is to identify needs and shape an appropriate service response. However, if your organization is using assessments to determine that some jobseekers are “not ready” for employment or “not motivated” to work, then it is time to rethink the use of those assessments.

Eliminate exclusionary policies, rules, and practices—Take an honest inventory of your program’s policies and practices and ask which ones have the effect of excluding some of the people seeking your services, whether or not that effect is intentional. Do many participants get removed from programming due to rule infractions such as tardiness? Do participants balk at the prospect of completing weeks of unpaid preparation and drop out prior to connecting with a job? Take a look at when and why jobseekers are denied services or leave before completion, and consider solutions for including or retaining them.

Making a commitment to zero exclusion can be challenging—it may require rewriting policies, redesigning services, retraining staff, seeking new finding, or renegotiating relationships with employers. But if we won’t help the jobseekers facing the most barriers, who will? What happens to the people we turn away? Ending chronic unemployment and poverty requires us to do everything in our power to connect every jobseeker with a job, no exceptions.

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About National Initiatives on Poverty & Economic Opportunity

Heartland Alliance’s National Initiatives on Poverty & Economic Opportunity is dedicated to ending chronic unemployment and poverty. We believe that every person deserves the opportunity to succeed in work and support themselves and their families. Through our field building, we provide support and guidance that fosters more effective and sustainable employment efforts. Our policy and advocacy work advances solutions to the systemic issues that drive chronic unemployment.

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