Review #102 Nov/Dec 1998

Developing Workers

As community development corporations (CDCs) strive to develop comprehensive strategies to help individuals and families in their communities, they are increasingly turning their attention to job training and placement programs, […]

As community development corporations (CDCs) strive to develop comprehensive strategies to help individuals and families in their communities, they are increasingly turning their attention to job training and placement programs, finding that living-wage jobs are critical to the health of every aspect of a community. Where schools have failed to prepare people with basic reading and math skills, and government-led workforce efforts have failed to respond to the needs of low-income communities, many community-based organizations (CBOs) are proving that locally driven initiatives providing skill building for and access to living-wage jobs can help bring families out of poverty.

CDCs are well suited to workforce development, because they recognize the links between jobs and the other issues facing low-income communities says Bennett Harrison, professor of urban political economy at the Milano Graduate School of Management and Urban Policy at the New School for Social Research and author of two books on community-based workforce development. Changes in the economy and in federal workforce development policy (see sidebar) have also made community-based workforce development increasingly appropriate to meet the needs of employers, as well as job seekers, Harrison says. The only other source of training programs is city and state agencies, he adds, which have predominantly failed.

“CBOs can be intermediaries to help employers reach populations they traditionally haven’t been able to reach to recruit from,” Harrison says, and can provide an important watchful eye over a workforce development program, ensuring that the program and ultimately the employers stick to the organization’s mission of supporting low-income residents. Local groups are also able to be flexible and responsive to the needs of the job seekers and the employers, he adds, allowing them to be more successful.

Perhaps most importantly of all, Harrison says, community-based organizations know the communities and often even the individuals they serve, and also know the businesses and industries and their workforce needs, factors critical to the success of a community-based workforce development initiative.

These programs take a variety of forms, and while some models have been replicated in a number of places, few, if any, are identical. Key to the success of a job training program is its ability to adapt to the needs of the individuals seeking work, the businesses seeking skilled employees, and the needs of the community itself. Effective programs address six interconnected issues:

  • Assessment. Job training providers face the initial challenge of learning about each job seeker and identifying his or her particular skills and weaknesses. This assessment is what will determine the type and level of training the individual needs, as well as where they are ultimately placed.
  • Hard Skills Training. Successful job training programs focus on training individuals for jobs that are currently open, jobs that require some degree of specific skill, ranging from computer competence to machinery operation to writing skills. The connection to a specific job allows the training to focus on preparing individuals for the tasks they can expect once hired. Programs customized to the needs of an employer, often even conducted on-site, have proven to be the most successful.
  • Soft Skills Training. Training in basic skills is often necessary for individuals who have been out of the workforce for a long time, or who were never in it at all, whether it be in resume writing, interview techniques, English as a Second Language (ESL), or even basic hygiene or other lifeskills. Such skills are critical when it comes to applying for and getting a job, as well as keeping it over the long term.
  • Placement. The placement role goes beyond offering a list of classified ads to an individual who has received training. Job training providers need to develop relationships with employers, and carefully link employees with businesses that are seeking their skills.
  • Retention. After being placed in a job, successful job training programs track each employee’s progress, with an eye not only to longevity in a position, but also to advancement.
  • Follow-up. Along with keeping their new job, employees often need ongoing skill training, both in job-specific skills as well as in soft skills. Attention to these needs increases retention rates.


Skill training, “attitude formation,” and general education, while critical to workforce development, are simply not enough to help people gain and keep jobs, says Harrison. “People find jobs through social and professional networks,” he says, and the same factors that make these informal networks successful also make more formal networks succeed. “Even large CBOs are discovering that if they collaborate and are willing to change and accommodate the needs of other groups in their network, they can get things done that they wouldn’t have been able to accomplish on their own.”

While minimal resources and lack of a complete range of skills may prevent a single community-based organization from designing and implementing a complete program, developing links to other community-based organizations as well as institutions such as banks, schools, and local government agencies, allows small groups to capitalize on each other’s skills and resources to develop a comprehensive set of services. Likely partners include government agencies, financial institutions, community colleges, private industry councils, as well as private employers.

The formation of networks allows organizations to share their capacities and information, as well as the risks of an initiative, and helps an initiative gain legitimacy by having a larger base of stakeholders both within and outside the community. Such networking and collaboration also lessens the likelihood of duplication of services, and allows initiatives to run more efficiently.

Small CBOs interested in engaging in workforce development projects should start by researching who in their area is already succeeding with such an initiative, and how they can get involved as a partner, says Harrison. Groups need to keep in mind that engaging in a network isn’t a free ride, he adds – such alliances only work if every partner contributes.

“Look for partners who have a trusted reputation in the community, who have a track record of learning from their mistakes,” Harrison suggests to CDCs, and partner with programs that focus on retention and follow-up, and that work closely with employers to train people for specific jobs.

The most successful initiatives, Harrison says, have an explicit political agenda, advocating for policy and legislative changes to benefit their communities, and developing ways to work with regulations to meet the needs of the communities. CDCs have a proven track record in this arena, and as such are a valuable asset to networks, more so than if they were to attempt to start their own training programs, Harrison says.

Success Stories

No single formula is right for every community, and few community-based job-training initiatives have gone about establishing their programs in exactly the same way as any other. The following examples give an idea of the range of organizations undertaking these efforts, and the success and challenges they’ve met.

The Chicago Jobs Council

Founded in 1983, the Chicago Jobs Council (CJC), a 90-member coalition of community-based organizations and civic groups, provides its members with advocacy and policy assistance and serves as a convener for demonstration projects to test new job training models. The Council’s activities are driven by its membership, emphasizes Robert Wordlaw, executive director of CJC, keeping its work firmly connected to the needs of the communities it serves.

Above all, says Wordlaw, job training has to be more than teaching people a single skill and handing them a list of job postings. “Placing a person is the tip of the iceberg,” he says, “that’s just where the work begins.” “Soft skill” training, such as interpersonal communication and basic lifeskills, are a big factor in helping someone find and keep a job. Retention is also critical, he says, not just in terms of whether an individual stays in a particular job, but whether they stay in the job market in general, and most current programs’ 60-90 day follow up isn’t sufficient to monitor retention rates.

Assessment is a particular weakness among job counselors, Wordlaw says, “because if that’s wrong, everything that comes after is wrong.” Helping job seekers realize what their weaknesses and strengths are is an important first step in building their self-esteem, as well as helping them find an appropriate job. CJC is starting a program to provide capacity building services to CBOs, in the form of training staff as job counselors. “There has never been a class to train or better prepare people at the community level to do the kind of assessment, testing, referral, mentoring, or follow up that is needed,” Wordlaw says. “People just come in and say ‘I’m a job counselor’ and then just learn it on the fly. We need to structure that learning.”

Demonstration programs undertaken by CJC include a computer-based job listing and referral network, to test if the sharing of job leads among member organizations can enhance placement activity, and a reverse commuter transportation program to try to bring inner-city residents out to the suburbs where the jobs are. “We’re always looking at the policy implications of what we do – how can other providers benefit from what we learn?” says Wordlaw.

CJC also acts as an intermediary in developing more effective partnerships among community-based organizations, job providers, and government agencies. Participation of these partners is key to the success of a program, Wordlaw says.

“The business community has to be more involved in shaping the curriculum of training programs, so we can be sure we’re training people for jobs that exist,” he says. “The government needs to be more flexible in developing customized vocational education programs that will allow people who are being influenced by the welfare time limits to get training in a reasonable amount of time to move into employment that provides family-supporting wages.” While CBOs can provide excellent skill training, community colleges can fill some of the significant gaps in vocational education, Wordlaw says.

Though CJC and its members are still learning about the implications of the Workforce Investment Act (WIA), Wordlaw predicts it will put significant strains on CBOs trying to provide job training services. The new voucher system, for instance, means that organizations will receive funding according to how many individuals they serve, whereas in the past they were given grants to deliver a certain amount of work, funds that enabled the organizations to obtain lines of credit. CJC is developing a fund to provide short-term loans to deal with the cash flow problems anticipated as a result of the new laws.

With WIA making a wider range of options available to job seekers, including both nonprofit and for-profit providers, competition to attract job seekers will increase. The additional competition will present some challenges, Wordlaw predicts, since it means providers will have to increase the quality of their services to attract job seekers. For-profit trainers aren’t guided by the same kind of missions as community-based nonprofits, Wordlaw points out, and so they have the flexibility to show better results by kicking people out of their program who don’t show progress. Those better numbers could serve to attract more clients, and therefore more dollars from the voucher system, even if the program is giving up on hard-to-employ individuals.

The “one-stop” centers established by the WIA is also a mixed bag for CBOs, Wordlaw says. A study just completed by CJC concluded that too much emphasis has been placed on trying to devise a geographic strategy to meet job training needs. “Just because all these services are under one roof doesn’t mean they become super-effective,” he says. “Politics affects how people cooperate, so putting the state and city in the same facility creates some tension,” he adds, “but we’re hoping that can be resolved in these centers.”

The timing of WIA was particularly poor, Wordlaw adds, since it followed so closely on the heels of federal welfare reform. “Most CBOs are already over-burdened with trying to comply with administration policy regarding the placement of TANF [Temporary Assistance to Needy Families] participants, and now here comes WIA, which is going to call for additional change and increased capacity needs. This puts a real strain on CBOs.”

But CJC doesn’t believe in simply allowing legislation to shape its agenda – CJC, in turn, works to shape legislation and policy to meet its members’ needs. “People assume that legislators understand the bills they vote on,” says Wordlaw, “but that’s not always the case. The Network has a good reputation of being able to educate and inform legislators about workforce and economic development issues.” When CJC discovered that the new welfare laws provided funds for placement but not for training, the council focused its attention on state legislation and policy. It succeeded in leveraging $1 million for skills training from the state of Illinois, and is working with the Illinois Department of Human Services office to redirect funds to training as well, funds the state saved by forcing people off welfare.

The Jane Addams Resource Corporation

These legislative successes are a good example of the strength in numbers provided by CJC, says Michael Buccitelli, executive director of the Jane Addams Resource Corporation (JARC), a CJC member and community-based organization that focuses on job training and retention. Along with the policy and advocacy work, Buccitelli says the network role played by CJC, connecting local organizations with each other to augment their services, has contributed greatly to the success of member organizations.

One of the few organizations in the country specializing in incumbent worker training, JARC focuses on providing training for the working poor, to enable workers to increase their wages and keep their jobs. Employers seek JARC’s services to develop and implement an applied training program for employees whose skills need development. With the dual goal of improving employees’ job security, career mobility, and income potential, and of enabling companies to be more efficient, the program focuses on the metalwork industry. Courses include applied math, blueprint analysis, punch press die setting, and computer-aided design programming, as well as more general ESL and literacy courses.

Over the last four years, over 350 workers from 30 companies have completed training classes, and JARC boasts a 95 percent retention rate from its incumbent worker training program, Buccitelli says. JARC’s success has even gained the organization leverage in the metalworking industry, getting the national trade association to reconsider its hiring and training practices.

As a community-based nonprofit, JARC is better able to build relationships with employers and tailor each training effort to meet the specific needs of the business, Buccitelli says. “CBOs have their finger on the heartbeat of the community, so we’re able to be quite responsive to both what employers and employees need.” While employers pick up half the tab for training and state funds cover the rest, Buccitelli says it’s a struggle to fund the program. JARC is working to become more entrepreneurial and are considering adding more fee-for-service work to its portfolio in order to sustain and grow the program, he says.

Though the geographic borders within which JARC works have long since grown outside its immediate community, “we try to be community-based and driven,” Buccitelli says. “We have a commitment to continue workforce development wherever we’re needed, but not at the expense of our community mission. We try to connect the employers we work with to our community.”

Coastal Enterprises, Inc.

Coastal Enterprises, Inc. (CEI), a statewide CDC in Maine, has operated its Targeted Opportunities Program (TOP) for 15 years, linking and coordinating CEI’s economic development activities with state and federally funded education, employment, and training programs that serve people with low incomes. The program helps people with low incomes become economically self-sufficient by providing access to education, training, and employment opportunities in the private sector, and helps businesses assess their training needs, develop employment training plans, access training resources, and dedicate resources to employee development.

Not a training program itself, CEI packages relationships between training providers and businesses. Businesses enter into an Employment Training Agreement with CEI, in which they agree to target at least a majority of new jobs created to low income people referred through Maine’s job training programs, notify CEI of all new job openings as they become available, and work with CEI and job training providers to develop and implement a training program. Training providers agree to refer people with low incomes to the business for available employment positions, and provide job counseling services, pre-employment training, on-site customized skills training, and support services including child care and transportation.

For its part, CEI acts as an intermediary, facilitating implementation of the training and the agreement, monitoring activities, and tracking each individual who participates in the program. “The way we like to operate is by building community collaboratives,” says Kathleen J. Kearney, senior program officer for TOP. Through a mutual decision making process, CEI works to ensure that each agreement satisfies the needs of the business, utilizes the skills of the training program, and provides jobs to those who need them.

One of the biggest challenges in the job training field, Kearney says, is getting providers to lay aside turf issues and collaborate toward a common goal. CEI is working on building collaboratives that do just that, she says, adding that the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has funded a community-based strategic planning process to bring stakeholders together, look at the gaps in services, and figure out how to pool resources to fill them.

With about 110 businesses in its active portfolio, CEI has brokered deals that have placed over 2,000 people in jobs over the past 15 years. The training agreements have led to many long-term jobs. For example, thanks to an agreement with CEI, Soleras LTD, a family business that makes manufacturing machinery, has hired 31 low-income people, including 12 welfare recipients, since 1991. Twenty seven of those employees still work for Soleras today.

“What we’re looking for,” says Kearney, “are not dead-end, low-wage jobs. We’re looking for jobs that will pay people a family-sustaining income, jobs that provide opportunities for upward mobility, benefits, and wage progression.”

Center for Employment Training/New Community Corporation

San Jose’s Center for Employment Training (CET), one of the nation’s oldest and most well-known community-based job training initiatives, has expanded its efforts nationwide by training other organizations in its methodology. One group that has replicated CET’s program is New Community Corporation (NCC) in Newark, NJ. Recognizing that traditional job training programs, with fixed curricula, schedules, and entry requirements, and minimal focus on career direction, do not recognize the needs of the typical low-income urban resident, NCC took up CET’s model in 1992.

Job training was not a new program for NCC; a multi-faceted CDC established in 1968, the organization had long used its housing and social service programs as an employment base, creating over 1,000 jobs in housing, human services, commercial real estate, retail, and business development. An employment placement center, begun in the mid 1980s, had focused on placing people with job histories in new positions, but the organization recognized that there was a greater need to train and place people with no prior work experience.

The CET model promotes the personal development and education of low-income people by providing them with marketable skills training and supportive services to increase their ability to achieve economic self-sufficiency. “The emphasis needs to be on getting people into careers, not just training them for a specific job,” says Robert Zdenek, former Director of Economic Development for NCC. “That way they develop portable skills and can stay employed over the long-term.”

The program provides for open-entry, self-paced schedules, contextual learning, integrated basic skills remediation, life skills, and thorough involvement by local employers, and strives to be comprehensive and adaptable to each person’s needs. Courses offered by NCC include building maintenance, home health aide training, security guard training, automated office skills, cook/chef training, basic skills/GED preparation, and life skills career development.

NCC has the unique advantage of being a large employment base itself, says Zdenek, and about 40 percent of CET graduates go on to jobs within NCC, with the rest being placed among the more than 200 businesses with which the employment center has ties.

The WIA means less funds for community based organizations doing job training, says Zdenek, and more emphasis on numbers of individuals placed. CBOs will likely have to find creative ways to subsidize these initiatives, using funds from other projects. While an organization the size of NCC might be able to do this with ease, smaller organizations are likely to find the change more of a challenge. “CDCs need to realize that they can’t each provide all of the needed services. They have to partner with other organizations, carefully assessing what each can bring to the table that’s different, and build a program together,” says Zdenek.

Chicanos Por La Causa

Chicanos Por La Causa (CPLC), a CDC established 30 years ago to serve Phoenix’s Chicano population, has been training and placing some of that city’s hardest to employ residents since 1977. Nearly 150 people each year go through CPLC’s year-long program, which includes assessment, basic education, vocational skills training, job placement and follow up.

“We deal with people who are very poor and have very limited employment skills,” says Eloise Enriquez, director of CPLC’s Employment and Training Program, and they often need to begin with some of the most basic skills, like grooming or showing up on time for interviews. “We work with them on short-term goals, and as they attain them they gain confidence and progress faster.” After a year, CPLC places each participant with an employer it has a relationship with.

Through Work Experience Contracts, CPLC places some participants in the program with local nonprofit organizations for three months at a time, paying them minimum wage. During that time the person develops basic skills, but just as importantly gets into the habit of showing up at a job every day and dealing with all the responsibilities and discipline involved. Developing those habits, as well as being able to say they’ve had work experience, makes them much more prepared for placement in a real job, explains Enriquez.

Once participants are placed in a job, follow-up continues through 90 days, after which CPLC has about a 75 percent retention rate, Enriquez says. The challenges some individuals come into the program facing are often just too much to overcome in a year-long program, she says, and some find the demands of a job to be too much. “We deal with people who have gone to school for eight years but are at a fourth or fifth grade level. What the education system couldn’t do in eight years, we have to do in one.” The sensitivity required to help people gain confidence in themselves is particularly important to their work, she says, but that process often takes so long that they’re unable to develop the discipline they need to excel in a job and retain it.

The WIA isn’t going to help matters any, she adds, particularly since the new laws stress placing individuals in jobs very quickly. “We’re developing shorter term curriculums, but I don’t know if we’re going to be able to help the people who really need it that way. The clients that we serve are really hurting and have so many barriers,” she says, and placing them quickly without the proper training and preparation makes it more likely that they won’t stay in the job, making matters worse for the individuals they’re trying to serve, the employers who need to fill the jobs, and CPLC itself.

CPLC also runs a housing program, a shelter for battered women, and a drug and alcohol counseling program under the CDC’s umbrella. Each of the programs support the others, Enriquez says, along with developing strong connections with other agencies and organizations doing complimentary work. CPLC has a strong reputation in the communities it serves, she says, largely because the organization has a history of helping the poor. “People know we can relate to their situation,” she says.


  • Chicago Jobs Council; 332 S. Michigan Ave., Suite 500; Chicago, IL 60604; 312-663-0723
  • New Community Corporation; 233 West Market Street; Newark, NJ 07103; 973-623-2800;
  • Center for Employment Training; 701 Vine St.; San Jose, CA 95110; 408-287-7924.
  • Coastal Enterprises, Inc.; P.O. Box 268 ; Wiscasset, ME 04578 ; 207-882-7552;
  • Chicanos Por La Causa; 1112 E. Buckeye Rd.; Phoenix, Arizona 35034; 602-257-0700

Workforce Investment Act

In August, Congress passed the Workforce Investment Act (WIA), replacing the Job Training Partnership Act (JTPA) as the legislation that governs the nation’s job training system and funds local efforts to train populations in need of assistance.

The WIA establishes a system of ‘one-stop’ centers designed to provide job-seekers with the information and advice they need to obtain training and employment. Individuals who seek services at the one-stops will then be given vouchers with which to find training, but only after they prove unable to find or keep a job, since the new regulations emphasize placing people into work, any work at all, as quickly as possible.

The new regulations also provide stricter performance standards than in the past, tracking retention and earnings after six months but at the same time ignoring each individual’s previous skill level. This makes it difficult to determine who is being served and how well, according to an analysis of the WIA from the Center for Community Change. Also changed under the new laws is the structure of the local decision-making entities that oversee the local efforts, which now have less stringent membership requirements with respect to union and community-based representation.

The WIA poses new challenges for community-based workforce development initiatives, says Bennett Harrison, professor of urban political economy at the Milano Graduate School of Management and Urban Policy at the New School for Social Research. “The idea of the one-stop centers seems to be to stuff more information into the heads of poor people and steer them to the job ads. It ignores collective action, advocacy, actively working for a group of people, and plays down the importance of organizations of any kind.” The voucher system opens up the job training industry to allow nonprofit and for-profit organizations to compete against each other for customers, he points out, leaving nonprofits at a distinct disadvantage since they’re beholden to their communities and missions, while “for-profits aren’t accountable to anyone.”

For more information about the WIA, contact Lisa Ranghelli at the Center for Community Change, 202-342-0567, [email protected]

Jobs and Economic Development
Review by Robert O. Zdenek

A rich body of practice and development is evolving on the connections between jobs and economic development. This interest is fueled by the lack of low-wage jobs that offer career potential for low-income residents, businesses and industries developing regional strategies, and public policy changes from an income-centered welfare system to a work-driven system with time limits for benefits.

The recent Sage Publication, Jobs and Economic Development, edited by Robert Giloth of the Annie E. Casey Foundation, is a welcome addition to community economic development literature. Giloth, who directs the Casey Foundation Jobs Initiative, provides the first publication that brings together innovative demand strategies (employers, networks, sectoral/industry) with supply strategies (job readiness, training, and supports). The central theme of each section of this book is the need to move from a narrow job training strategy to a workforce development approach that includes recruitment of firms and job seekers, assessment of individuals, employer-based skills training, development of career leaders, and post-placement strategies.

The promising job-centered strategies featured in this book include focusing on how jobs are created and retained through various sectors, forming social networks to help people access employment, and understanding the regional nature of economies. The book explores the goal of intervening in an industry to create good jobs through home health care and paraprofessional opportunities. Several articles explore how social networks are essential for opening employment opportunities for low-income residents. Informal networks exist in communities, but these articles point to the challenges of developing career ladders through social networks.

Job-centered economic development is becoming an essential competency for community-based development practitioners, whose ultimate mission is to alleviate poverty and create economic opportunities for all our citizens. Unfortunately, most community development corporations are just starting to explore these issues, and are not familiar with the basic elements of employment and workforce development strategies. Such a primer on the strategies and approaches that community-based organizations can pursue in workforce development would make an excellent companion to this useful volume.

Jobs and Economic Development; Edited by Robert Giloth; Sage Publications, 1998. 248 pages.

You can order this book from the Shelterforce Online Bookstore.


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