!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD XHTML 1.0 Strict//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/xhtml1/DTD/xhtml1-strict.dtd"> Streamline Training & Documentation: Cincinnati Works

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Cincinnati Works

The last of the items from the December issue of the Harvard Business Review that I want to note is a short piece called "Tapping a Risky Labor Pool" by Miami University accounting professors Brian Ballou and Dan L. Heitger. This article describes a non-profit agency founded in 1996 called Cincinnati Works whose mission is to
partner with willing and capable people living in poverty to assist them in advancing to economic self-sufficiency through employment.
Cincinnati Works defines self-sufficiency as
when someone can provide for the needs of themselves, their family, pay bills, and save with only their paycheck. No additional assistance is needed such as food stamps, cash assistance, Medicaid, day care vouchers, money from family and friends, or any other type of support.
The people Cincinnati Works helps are called "members." Anyone living at or below 200% of the federal poverty guideline is eligible and, once they join, members remain eligible for services indefinitely. The approach Cincinnati Works takes is encapsulated in this statement of what I'd call their operational philosophy:
Our members endure many obstacles which have kept them from getting and keeping employment. Therefore wrap-around services are provided to address the barriers they face such as unstable work history, criminal convictions and legal issues, lack of marketable skills, lack of child care, transportation to and from work, lack of sustainable motivation to press onward and succeed, and low self-esteem. Though our members face many challenges, we believe that they can succeed in meeting their goals. We continually propel and push them toward success. (emphasis added)
Once a person has been accepted as a member, he or she attends a one-week job readiness workshop. The workshop focuses on employer expectations, workplace cultures, conflict resolution, and — absolutely key in Cincinnati Works' view — how to keep a job for a minimum of one year in order to have a track record of stability that qualifies the member to seek advancement.

After the workshop, it's time for the job search step, in which an employment support specialist (ESS) identifies possible matches of member to job, taking into account the member's work availability, education, transportation options, and criminal convictions. The most frequent employers are in banking, health care, manufacturing and production, security, administrative/clerical activities, transportation, janitorial, and food service. The average beginning wage for the 612 members placed in 2005 was $9.12 an hour.

Once a member is on-the-job, the ESS goes into job retention mode, with the main aim being providing whatever support will assist the member in staying in his or her position for a full year. The member receives regular phone calls and occasional job-site visits from Cincinnati Works to see how things are going and to help with any issues that may have come up. The overarching goal is always to be moving toward full-time permanent employment.

The final phase in the Cincinnati Works process begins when a member is close to the first anniversary at his or her job. The member and the ESS map out a career track and plan. They also talk about where the member's wage is relative to what's needed for self-sufficiency, taking the member’s household size into account. As appropriate, the ESS helps the member develop a case for a reasonable wage increase.

In their report on Cincinnati Works, Ballou and Heitger focus on how the agency helps manage the risk a company assumes in hiring someone with a problematic background and/or poor work history. A company realizes considerable savings when it recruits from a pool of candidates with a significantly higher probability of one-year retention than the probability of one-year retention of candidates drawn from an "off the street" pool. For instance, Fifth Third Bank estimates that it has saved $480,000 over the three years it has been using Cincinnati Works to refer candidates.

To raise the probability that a member will reach the one-year goal, Cincinnati Works provides an array of support services, which include:
  • counseling by an experienced licensed social worker (most frequent issues: self-esteem, anger and depression management, basic problem solving)

  • legal advocacy

  • bus fare to get to the job readiness workshop and to job interviews

  • practice interviews

  • guidance on selecting appropriate child care (from a partner organization)

  • a chaplain to visit if desired (e.g., for help during a period of depression, a not infrequent issue)

  • advice on preparing for and obtaining job advancement

  • tuition assistance (after one year as an active member)

  • emergency food relief
Ballou and Heitger note that the Cincinnati Works model is most effective in the case of jobs carried out in a highly structured environment (e.g., at a bank); it is less effective in an environment in which job tasks are loosely defined. Since there are many jobs in the former category, and many chronically unemployed and working poor, the good results Cincinnati Works has achieved (at an average placement cost of $1,200) merit emulation, which Ballou and Heitger report is already happening in Houston.


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