Employer-driven jobs program aims to prove it improves people’s lives

jobs programA consistent challenge in workforce development is figuring out what works — and that means not just tracking how many people a program has placed into jobs, but whether their lives actually improved as a result.

Skills for Chicagoland’s Future, a nonprofit funded mostly with public money, on Friday plans to release the preliminary results of a study that measured whether its employer-driven approach is helping people not only find jobs, but good jobs that improve their incomes and access to benefits while ending reliance on government assistance.

The results come as the 4-year-old organization announces its first regional expansion outside of Chicago, with the launch of Skills for Rhode Island’s Future, and plans to create a national organization to manage future expansions.

The Skills model, which has placed more than 3,000 people into jobs since its Chicago launch, is to work closely with businesses to determine their hiring needs and recruit unemployed and underemployed job seekers with the right backgrounds to fill those jobs.

Though preliminary, the study results “are really good for Skills,” said Chris Spence, principal at the New Growth Group, a Cleveland-based workforce consulting firm that was commissioned by the Joyce Foundation to conduct the evaluation. Joyce is one of Skills’ donors.

“Most of the arrows are pointing in the right direction,” he said.

The bulk of the analysis, scheduled for publication in January, will use administrative data on public benefits and other metrics to examine how people who were matched into jobs through Skills fared over a long period, and compare their outcomes with a control group that didn’t go through the Skills program.

The study’s first phase, being released Friday, was a survey of 326 people placed into jobs through the program in 2014 and 2015, conducted between nine and 24 months after they had been matched with jobs.

Among the key findings:

•Sixty-three percent of respondents were employed, versus 36 percent who were employed before encountering Skills.

•Fifty-four percent were in a job with paid time off, versus 20 percent before Skills.

•Sixty-two percent were in a job with health benefits, versus 34 percent who had had benefits before.

•Average hourly wages were $15 after engaging with Skills, versus $13 before — which amounts to about $6,500 more in annual income. Average weekly hours increased to 37 from 33.

There also were marked declines in use of public assistance among those who previously had been unemployed. The share of previously jobless respondents receiving unemployment insurance dropped to 11 percent from 30 percent after being matched with a job through Skills, and those receiving Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits (food stamps) dropped to 28 percent from 45 percent.

There was little impact on public assistance usage among those who had previously been underemployed, which includes those not fully utilizing their skills or working part time when they wish to be full time.

Marie Trzupek Lynch, president and CEO of Skills for Chicagoland’s Future, said the results exceeded her expectations, and she was particularly gratified to see growth in wages and benefits and reduction in government dependency.

“Access to benefits literally brought me so much joy because it is not just a job, it is a job with benefits,” she said.

Demand-driven approaches to job training and placement have become common in workforce development, but there have been few rigorous studies that show the model delivers and is worth the social investment, said Matthew Muench, senior program officer at the Joyce Foundation.

“It’s time consuming, expensive and difficult to do real impact analysis, and thus it’s rarely done,” Muench said.

Though surveys have limitations — self-reporting isn’t always accurate, and the questions are asked during a single phone call so they reflect a person’s situation at that moment — the initial findings are positive and the foundation is hopeful that the second phase of the analysis, with the comparison group and administrative data, bears them out, Muench said.

“We are cautiously optimistic that this shows that organizing around these principles can help people who are struggling to get jobs or get good jobs, (to) do so,” he said.

The Skills model is unique in the depth of the relationships it cultivates with business clients, Spence said. The organization listens to what clients are looking for and finds hires that match that criteria.

Notably, general research in workforce development has found that job training programs, which are more expensive, tend to produce better results for job seekers than programs that just match people to jobs, Spence said.

But with Skills, which is primarily a matching program, the $6,500 annual earnings growth reported by survey respondents is similar to what training interventions produce, yet it is less resource intensive, Spence said.

As demand-driven programs become more prominent, Spence said a future priority should be to evaluate the impact not just on the job seekers, but on businesses.

Skills partners with 45 businesses that commit to hiring a certain number of people from the program into part-time, full-time and temporary-to-permanent jobs, Trzupek Lynch said. Most are entry-level or midlevel positions.

The organization — which recruits candidates through CareerBuilder, the state’s database of job seekers and more than 40 other organizations in the region’s workforce system — is on track to hit its goal of placing 1,050 people into those jobs this year. The clients that hire the most Skills candidates are Hudson Group, which runs airport businesses, University of Chicago Medical Center and manufacturer Freedman Seating.

Though Skills itself is not a training program, about a fifth of its placements go through a train-to-hire program requested by the employer, which Skills helps fund. In surveys that ask the business partners why they use the service, the top reasons cited are the quality and diversity of the candidates as well as the sense of civic responsibility, Trzupek Lynch said.

Three-quarters of Skills’ hires are African-Americans and 70 percent of hires live in community areas where unemployment is higher than 10 percent, according to its 2015 annual report. Nearly 60 percent had been unemployed more than six months. The majority have only high school degrees or GEDs.

The median age of Skills’ placements is 40, but in the face of the city’s youth unemployment crisis the group is aiming to increase the number of 18- to 24-year-olds it serves. Currently youth are 30 percent of its placements and the goal is to hit 40 percent, Trzupek Lynch said.

Skills, whose $3.3 million revenue last year was 40 percent privately funded and the rest publicly funded, was the first regional adaptation of a similarly focused national effort called Skills for America’s Future, which was initiated by the Obama administration and run by the Aspen Institute.

That national initiative ended. But as other regions, starting with Rhode Island, adopt the model, Skills is fundraising to launch an umbrella national organization that also will be called Skills for America’s Future, and will be headquartered in Chicago, to manage future expansions, Trzupek Lynch said.

 

Source www.chicagotribune.com