The 2017 Work First Fellowship Research Presentations

On May 22nd, 2017 The Work First Foundation and America Works welcomed leaders in government and policy experts to listen to the Work First Fellows' policy proposals. Below are summaries of those presentations. 


Skills Match and Self Awareness

Dustin Becker, New York Fellow

America Works of New York, Inc. (America Works) provides industry-aligned training to help clients gain the work skills necessary to obtain and sustain employment. The hypothesis of this study was that some adults might use training as a way to put off applying for work in order to avoid employer rejection. It turned out that clients consistently chose training as a way to further pursue a career and they recognized the training as a pathway to that specific industry.


Alternative Paths to Education

Rebecca Felczak, New York Fellow

A high school diploma is required for a variety of low-level to mid-level jobs, yet a large population of clients failed to complete high school. There are several alternative education options for adults in New York City who do not currently have a high school degree. By examining various pathways to high school equivalency and other credentials, workforce development vendors can more successfully help advance clients into stable careers.  This study examined current education levels of clients in America Works' High School Equivalency (HSE) classes, barriers to achieving their desired level of education and long-term education goals. Two recommendations will be proposed to workforce development vendors on how to best implement HSE-type programs, and how to connect clients to higher education, leading to the most successful client outcomes and achievement.


Computer Literacy in the Workforce

Sakiera Malone, Baltimore Fellow

Employers are increasingly using computers as an integral part of their company, from running its daily operations to evaluating employees through the hiring process. This research examines the computer literacy level of individuals participating in a work program with the guiding question; Does the lack of computer literacy and access to internet service have an effect on someone’s ability to gain employment? A sample group from Baltimore and New York were given a pre- and post-survey after participating in a computer literacy class. The results revealed that participants in both region experience similar difficulties navigating computers and negative attitudes prior to the computer literacy classes, but improved attitudes and comfort using the computers.


Disability and Barriers to Employment

Malisha Cooper-Suggs, Washington, DC Fellow

Following the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, individuals with disabilities were protected from discrimination in all employment fields and employers were mandated to provide reasonable accommodation for employees with disabilities. However, the passage of this act has not shown a significant increase employment for this population.  Focusing specifically on individuals with large employment gaps, this research examines the most common barriers that clients with disabilities face when seeking employment and explores the most common job interests of clients in the DDS program. Lastly, I provide recommendations that could potentially increase employment and job stability through the use of various training before placement programs.


Exploring Self Esteem Self Efficacy and Resilience in the TANF Population

Joseph Santangelo, Baltimore Fellow

Studies shows that self esteem is generally lower in ex offenders, working class mothers, and those who grew up in low income or high crime areas, which makes up a majority of the TANF population at America Works of Maryland. This study explored and attempted to raise the self-esteem of these participants through a series of self-help groups focused on positive psychology and Compassionate Mind Training (CMT). Results showed significant growth in self-esteem among participants as well as other immeasurable benefits such as being an open forum where participants could share resources. Based on these results it is recommended that workforce development programs build-in screening for low self-esteem participants or place high-risk demographics in self-help groups and adapt a positive psychology framework. Participants should be encouraged to focus on their strengths and re-frame difficult situations or barriers.  


Lessening the Effects of Housing Instability

Michelle Muallem & Catherine Sandoval, New York Fellows

Barriers such as facing eviction, living in shelters, overcrowded housing, or inaccessible housing have negative effects on clients mentally and physically. These barriers affect their employability. Understanding these instabilities and barriers are essential to helping find solutions and formulating action plans to help aide our clients find housing and become more employable overall.


Wage Cliffs and a Rising Minimum Wage

Kessie Petit Frere, New York Fellow

The wage cliff theory discusses what occurs when public benefits are lost or significantly reduced in a low-income household yet income has not increased enough for self-sufficiency recipients can find themselves trapped in the cycle of poverty if. Based on the surveyor’s outcomes at various America Works sites, research and current policy in place, a recommendation is provided to better assist those transitioning off Public Assistance to solely employment to offset this effect.


Combating Food Insecurity in Workforce Development

Kevin Reilly, New York Fellow

Following the great recession, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) grew exponentially to help more than 40 million people in the United States afford food including 1.4 million New Yorkers. In 2016 New York re-introduced the Able Bodied Adults Without Dependents that limits adults Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program enrollment to 3-months unless they are working or going through job training. In examining the dietary and shopping habits of those SNAP participants through America Works job-training, research discovered that clients want to eat healthy, but at certain times lack the resources, access to afford that food. More than 80% of surveyed clients faced food insecurity, 65% of clients worried about their ability to afford food after gaining employment, and only 58% used free food assistance resources in the last year. A variety of findings point towards workforce development vendors as an opportune place to 1) provide financial literacy in affording food that encourages employment, 2) market food community programs that provide and 3) promote participation in community nutrition education courses.