Society for Social Work and Research

Sixteenth Annual Conference Research That Makes A Difference: Advancing Practice and Shaping Public Policy
11-15 January 2012 I Grand Hyatt Washington I Washington, DC

138 Workforce Development: The Process and Prospects of Improving Employment Outcomes Among Vulnerable Workers In Today’s Economy

Saturday, January 14, 2012: 2:30 PM-4:15 PM
Arlington (Grand Hyatt Washington)
Cluster: Work, Family, and Family Policy
Symposium Organizer:
Susan Lambert, PhD, University of Chicago
Laura Lein, PhD, University of Michigan-Ann Arbor

The current recession, declining public expenditures for education and training, and escalating work requirements in social programs heighten the importance of understanding both the possibilities and limitations of workforce development efforts for improving employment outcomes among disadvantaged workers. Rigorous evaluations of workforce development initiatives indicate that the most successful programs are characterized by strong links between service providers and employers (Holzer, 2008; Holzer, Lane, Rosenblum, & Anderssen, 2011).  Yet, little is known about the nature of these relationships or the mechanisms by which they improve employment outcomes among workers with limited education and experience.  Moreover, most all research on workforce development focuses on the experiences of job applicants or service providers; the employers' perspective is either assumed or ignored. The studies included in this symposium examine workforce development from the vantage-point of multiple stakeholders, and with different methodologies, with the goal of helping fill these gaps in knowledge and advancing the economic security of today's workers and their families.

“On the Path from Education and Training to Employment” sets the stage by presenting findings from an evaluation of a wide range of publicly-funded workforce development programs in Chicago. This longitudinal study (2008-2010) is unique in that it links individual-level administrative data on services to outcome data on employment and wages from the state's Unemployment Insurance records across multiple years. The analyses reveal modest improvement in educational outcomes but deterioration in employment outcomes, raising questions of how dollars allocated to workforce development might be spent most wisely during times of economic contraction.

“Workforce Development Collaboratives” is an ethnographic account of five regional workforce development initiatives.  It gives particular attention to the nature of the relationships among job applicants, service providers, and employers, unpacking the ways in which strong relationships between service providers and employers pay-off for job seekers. “Employers' Use of Labor Market Intermediaries in Filling Low-Level Jobs” draws on a study of Human Resource practices in a set of hotels to provide unique insight into how employers approach their relationships with workforce development agencies and importantly, the types of jobs they seek to fill through these agencies. This study is sobering in its finding that most of the employers studied turn to public agencies to fill their lowest quality jobs.

Together, these studies provide a balanced assessment of the potential efficacy of workforce development services for improving the economic security of workers laboring at the lower-end of the labor market. By making relationships among different stakeholders a central focus, these studies hold lessons especially relevant to today's social workers  who often play a critical role in linking disadvantaged workers to the labor market either directly, as staff members of  workforce development programs, or indirectly,  by referring clients to different job placement and training services. The discussant will consider new directions for research and practice on workforce development and new avenues for fostering economic security among workers most disadvantaged in today's labor market. 


* noted as presenting author
On the Path From Education and Training to Employment: Analyzing Linked Administrative Data of Chicago's Workforce Development System to Assess Participants' Experiences and Outcomes
Elizabeth Weigensberg, PhD, Chapin Hall at the University of Chicago; Shannon Guiltinan, Chapin Hall at the University of Chicago; Lauren Sartain, Chapin Hall at the University of Chicago; Matthew Stagner, PhD, Chapin Hall at the University of Chicago; Robert Goerge, Chapin Hall Center at the University of Chicago
Workforce Development Collaboratives: How Do They Work?
Roberta Rehner Iversen, PhD, University of Pennsylvania
Employers' Use of Labor Market Intermediaries In Filling Low-Level Jobs: Sorting Disadvantaged Job Seekers and Employment Opportunities
Timothy Hilton, PhD, Northern Michigan University; Susan Lambert, PhD, University of Chicago
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