Review of Job Training and Welfare to Work Programs in Hartford
Prepared by: Stephen
Valocchi·Associate Professor of Modern Languages·Trinity College
Prepared for: Asylum Hill
Organizing Project·350 Farmington Avenue
Trinity Center for Neighborhoods
As part of the HUD grant used to establish the Trinity Center on Neighborhoods, I worked with a group in the Asylum Hill Organizing Project doing research on job training programs in the City and employment opportunities in Asylum Hill. The group, Parents Against Violent Environments, is interested in putting together an economic development plan for Asylum Hill. As part of that plan, the members of the group wanted to know what kinds of training programs existed in the city, programs primarily designed to move women on public assistance into work. They also wanted to know what kinds of entry level job opportunities exist and will exist in the near future among employers on Asylum Hill. These two inquiries are obviously related: The members of the group would like to know what resources exist to get job-related training and what is the feasibility of organizing their own welfare-to-work program; they also want an assessment of what jobs will be available and kinds of training these jobs will require.
I have had several conversations with many different people involved in job training efforts of one sort or another in the city of Hartford (e.g. the Workforce Development Board, The Department of Housing and Community Development of the City of Hartford, the Department of Social Services of the State of Connecticut, the Hartford Area Training Center, Family Life Ministries, the Center of Professional Advancement at the Capital Community Technical College, Connecticut Puerto Rican Forum, The Urban League etc). I have also had several conversations with representatives of the major employers on Asylum Hill (the Aetna, Hartford ITT, Connecticut Mutual, St. Francis Hospital and Medical Center, Capital Region Community Technical College). In addition, I have spoken with and obtained information from various public and private agencies that evaluate the job market of the region and/or the state (Department of Labor, Capital Region Council of Government, Capital Region Growth Council, the Connecticut Business and Industry Association, etc.).
Job Training Programs
Several conclusions emerged from my conversations about training programs and welfare to work programs.
First, the training programs that are the most successful1 in the eyes of the various administrators of these programs are ones that emphasize the teaching of both basic skills and specialized skills usually at the same time. For example, a model that was most successful in a national study of welfare to work programs was one that offered ESL and GED programs as well as some specialized computer training. Related to this, many administrators in Hartford spoke of a life-skills component as also being crucial in the developing work habits, building self esteem, and developing problem solving abilities. These life skills are best taught when there is staff and a program that is supportive of the many different areas of life that must be balanced for women who participate in these training programs. Not only does this involve a home-like atmosphere in the program but it also involves a staff that monitors clients progress, helps client with childcare, makes referrals for possible domestic problems or problems with kids in school etc.
With regards to the specialized training component several administrators noted that the more choices the better, so that clients are interested and motivated to stay in the program. This aspect currently exists at the Center for Professional Development at the Capital Community Technical College, in the programs under contract at the Workforce Development Board and, until recently, at the Hartford Area Training Center.
Another feature of successful programs pointed to repeatedly was the availability of daycare and transportation for the duration of the program. Some programs provide daycare on the premises as is the case with the Urban League's Project Self and the House of Bread's HOME program, and those programs are referred to as "very successful."
Many of the programs under review are long term programs that teach basic and specialized skills or short term programs that have links to and are the logical precursors to other short term programs or schooling. Many of the clients went from GED/ESL certificate to college or to a nurses aid certification program or to a dental assistants program. The Urban League's training programs which provide clerical and computer skills training, GED preparatory programs, and adult education, for example, last for six months. The director of Family Life Ministry said that the best job training program was college, an option closed by the state's welfare reform.
A final feature of successful programs that many cited and all said no longer existed was a connection between the program and some subset of employers. In the early years of the Urban League's program, for example, the program has sponsoring companies that pre-hired clients and paid them while they were in the program. (HARC had a similar arrangement with Pratt and Whitney.) Needless to say, that link is gone. When the contract existed in the Urban League's program, for example, the administrator said that 90 - 95 percent of the clients got jobs.
Several administrators volunteered suggestions to PAVE after I mentioned to them the purpose of the research.
A few whose own programs were in jeopardy spoke of the difficulty of setting up good job training programs in the present political climate. Money was not forthcoming from the State and probably not from the City or the federal government for training that did not include fairly quick job placement.
In this regard, a couple of people suggested political action as a "way to go." One particularly frustrated administrator of an almost defunct program suggested that, in addition to setting a program up, that the group come up with ways of resisting, protesting, and challenging the changes.
Others mentioned that the group become both a clearing house for the training programs that already exist and for the job opportunities that become available among employers on the Hill. Also and maybe in addition to that, it was mentioned that perhaps the group could set up a job club for its members - a club similar to the one that exists with Project Mash.2
As mentioned above, virtually all the administrators and staff I spoke to about their programs emphasized another set of conclusions and concerns. All the administrators of training programs said that the recently-enacted changes in welfare policy which emphasize short term and minimal skills training directly or indirectly threaten the existence of their programs. Because of the twenty-one month time limit for women who receive Aid to Families with Dependent Children, case workers will no longer recommend women to the longer term programs. Obviously, the route that many women took from basic GED to college is closed off under the new welfare law. As the director of the CRT's program stated, "Training is in direct conflict with the new welfare law." The job training money from the State is now going to support a program called Reach for Jobs First which provides resume writing skills, job interviewing skills, and some short term training. The major aspect of the program is job placement.
The second inquiry into entry level job opportunities on Asylum Hill was limited to the large employers on the Hill. The conclusions of the regional and state economic forecasts for job growth were echoed in the conversations I had with Human Resource and Staffing administrators on Asylum Hill.
Essentially, all spoke of downsizing, corporate restructuring, outsourcing "non-essential" services, and employee flexibility and adaptability. A survey of State businesses that asked businesses to anticipate their employment needs from 1995 - 2000 found that most of the future job growth will occur in small and mid-size companies. Obviously, these developments do not bode well for any large growth in jobs let alone jobs that require minimal entry level skills (GED, high school diploma, two-year associates degree).
One specific development affecting entry level positions in the insurance companies, for example, is the "temping" of most entry level positions. The insurance companies on Asylum Hill have their own temp agencies and use them to staff special projects, plug holes in offices, and do general clerical and administrative support work. This work is part time with no benefits. After three months, however, a temp worker is eligible to apply for a permanent position if posted. The Human Resource person at the Aetna said that if a person can stick it out for three months there is a good chance of moving into a permanent position.
Although most administrators of Human Resources and Personnel spoke of limited opportunities, they still said that some will be available. Connecticut Mutual (soon to be Massachusetts Mutual) anticipated the most new positions in customer service, claims adjusting, underwriting, assistants to claims adjustors and general clerical. The first three job categories require college degrees; the last two categories do not. The Staffing Administrator at Connecticut Mutual emphasized good reading skills, good organizational skills, some data entry, and some computer skills.
Regardless of the organization, all said that computer skills are essential. Even for many secretarial and administrative assistant positions familiarity with a personal computer and with word processing packages in a windows environment is essential. These jobs exist in the insurance companies. Jobs in food service or maintenance or security previously offered through the insurance companies are contracted out to vendors outside the City and sometimes outside the region.
A broader variety of entry level positions are potentially available at St. Francis Hospital and Medical Center. Currently, secretarial/clerical (e.g. receptionist, cashier, file clerk), service (eg. housekeeping aide, food service assistant), and nursing assistant positions are available. The entry level requirements vary but, for most part, require a high school or an associates degree.
In talking about these positions the administrator at the Saint Francis Hospital referred to recruiting a "multi-skilled employee" who can "adapt to change and learn new skills" - someone with a "positive attitude and willingness to take on new responsibilities." Virtually all of the Human Resource people that I spoke to talked about this new feature of employees. One administrator at Saint Francis spoke of a willingness to establish links to the community college to provide the training for the jobs that require specialized training (e.g. EKG, X-Ray technician, radiological technician).
Even as most of the administrators emphasized some sort of specialized training (usually computer skills), they also said that they were more interested in finding the "right kind of worker." Some even said that most people can do the jobs in their firm; what they are looking for is someone with the right attitude, the right motivation, the desire to work and be a team player. The staff person at Hartford ITT talked about looking for people who have "social skills" and the "potential to fit in." Similar sentiments were voiced by staffing people at Saint Francis and at the Aetna.
1For the most part, the administrators or staff I talked to consider the program successful if it moved women from welfare to work. Many insisted (everyone except the administrator of the CRT's program) that their goal was not to get their clients any job, but one that enable them to move fairly quickly off public assistance.
2A job club run by the Puerto Rican Forum that provides phones, office and day care as well as a "supportive and informal atmosphere for women looking for work."