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Welfare to work force Featured

7:09am EDT July 19, 2002
In today's atmosphere of record low unemployment, employers are scrambling for able-bodied employees to fill positions.

"It is expensive to hire people, and it is even more expensive to fire people," says Bethany Davin of Ross Innovative Employment Services. "It doesn't matter if you are paying them $5.15 an hour or $65,000 (a year), it is still expensive."

But Davin has what many business owners are seeking -- people, the bulk of whom are women -- to fill positions.

"We have 60 to 80 ex-welfare recipients a month who will be looking for work," she says.

Ross is an employment service provider contracted by the Cuyahoga County Department of Work and Training to create programs that help former welfare recipients land permanent employment. Its Transitional Jobs Programs allows employers who participate to receive 100 percent of the wages paid to the worker-- $6.50 to $10 an hour -- for the first 90 days of employment or to enact the Work Opportunity Tax Credit that provides them with tax credits for hiring and keeping welfare recipients.

"The wage subsidy is an incentive for the employer to retain an employee, typically entry level and obviously hard to retain in general," says Davin, the transitional program director. "This program is specifically geared to people who have hit time limits. We are dealing with clients who are prepared to work full time. The jobs need to be a minimum of $6.50 an hour."

Too good to be true? If the wage subsidy is not interesting enough, Ross offers employers immediate case management of any issues or problems that keep new hires from either getting to work or being able to do the job they were hired to do.

Davin says this is crucial.

"Most of the things that we talk about here are the things that employers don't have the time or the energy to address with the employees," she says. "I think of this as a triangular relationship between ourselves, the providing agency, the customer, who is the former welfare recipient, and the employer."

Everything from transportation and earned income tax credits to basic business behavior is discussed.

"The employer can feel comfortable in knowing that when those things come up, then those things have already been addressed," Davin says.

To qualify for welfare benefits, a person must be a custodial parent. That means that close to 95 percent of welfare recipients are women. One of the most common barriers to retaining steady employment is finding day care, something Ross takes an active role in.

"We help them develop that initial plan and help develop the contingency plan," Davin says. "Most day care contingency plans don't include commercial day care. It is friends, neighbors or a church group. It is talking through that plan that we help with."

Ross acts as an intermediary between the former welfare recipient and the employer.

"We will sit down with an employer and try to understand their needs," she says. "We want to talk extensively about the application procedure so we know what that is and whether there is a criminal background check, a drug test or if there a requirement of a GED or high school diploma."

For employers, Ross offers prescreening services.

"Obviously, we know significantly more about our customers than an employer can ever know at interview time," Davin says.

Davin's clients range from the highly skilled -- some with extensive computer training -- to those with no college experience and a GED.

Ross' program is a free service for the employer and saves the enormous expense of advertising for and recruiting entry-level employees. Business owners can recruit prospective employees by guest speaking, interviewing at the Ross offices or having resumes sent directly to the company.

The employer qualifications for the program are relatively unencumbered. The position must not be open because someone has been fired or because of a violation of union agreements. It must pay between $6.50 and $10 an hour and be for a minimum of 35 hours a week.

Davin says studies have found that welfare-to-work programs generally yield better retention results than a conventional employee search.

"About 72 percent of the welfare recipients find employment at $7.31 an hour on average for 38 hours a week," she says. "After 270 days, approximately 68 percent are still employed." How to reach: Ross Innovative Employment Solutions, 216-431-9605

Kim Palmer (kpalmer@sbnnet.com) is managing editor of SBN Magazine.