The Career Readiness Project:
Coaching & Best U Pilot
The Career Readiness Project (CRP) is piloting two approaches with parents who are receiving Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) benefits (1) Career & Life Coaching and (2) Best U (a work-based, soft skills learning experience) in order to help them gain family-sustaining careers.
In Washington State, more than 40% of parents receiving TANF return to the program within three years. In addition, about a quarter of parents return to the program within one year (TANF Performance Chartbook, May 2015). When parents with limited education or technical skills are required to find work – any work – they often accept low-wage jobs that offer minimal opportunity for advancement. By providing parents with additional coaching and skills, they are better able to find living-wage careers and become resilient to the crisis situations that often force them to return to public assistance.
The Career Readiness Project embeds a dedicated framework within the TANF system to address the long-term career potential of low-income parents. The pilots were developed by uniting agencies and service providers in a sustainable, comprehensive effort to modify the way TANF parents receive services.
Driving principles of the project includes:
- Leveraging existing programs and coordination of services at no additional cost.
- Uniting stakeholders from the community, workforce, education and other sectors to identify ways to enhance existing services.
- Upholding a focus on executive and interpersonal skills that inform and prepare parents for careers and contribute to family well-being.
- W.K. Kellogg Foundation
- Northwest Area Foundation
- Key Bank
- Cares of Washington
- Washington State Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS)
- Washington State Department of Commerce
- Washington State Board for Community and Technical Colleges (SBCTC)
- WorkFirst Legislative Taskforce
- Local Workforce Development Councils
- Washington Association of Head Start/Early Childhood Education and Assistance Programs
- Washington Budget and Policy Center
- Mathematica Policy Research
- Center on Budget and Policy Priorities
- Industry Partners & Employers
Career & Life Coaching Pilot
The Career & Life Coaching pilot tests an approach that can alter the trajectory of adults who have previously faced challenges to attaining long-term, family-sustaining employment. Coaches partner with parents, who have returned to TANF, to help them identify, set, and achieve goals on the path to career readiness and financial security. Only parents truly know themselves and their dreams, and know where they are in life and where to take action.
In Washington State, nine full-time coaches began piloting this approach in February 2016. Coaches are based in Clark, Snohomish, Spokane, and Yakima counties serving 6 DSHS Community Service Offices.
Career & Life Coaching is based in these foundational assumptions:
- Every parent is creative, capable, and resourceful.
- A strengths-based approach is more likely than a deficit-based approach to provide parents the opportunity to achieve long-term stability.
- Coaches create environments that make change possible.
- Greater self-awareness leads to increased performance and fulfillment.
- Change has a rippling effect on many aspects of a person’s life.
- The rate of change is unique to each parent and varies over time and task.
The Career & Life Coaching Toolkit is the foundational training document for coaches. It serves as a reference tool for coaches and complements the 3 day in-person training they receive. The toolkit introduces the fundamentals of coaching methodology and mindset, including a specific goal-setting process designed to help parents take action towards their long-term goals and continue moving forward despite hurdles they encounter. The toolkit also incorporates recent brain science on the connection between trauma, persistent poverty, and the development of executive function skills.
Role of Executive Skills in Coaching
Recent brain science research shows that the chronic stress of living in poverty can make it harder for individuals to manage themselves and their resources in order to achieve a goal (Mullainathan & Shafir, 2013). Individuals may have difficulty planning, controlling their reactions in certain situations, and getting things done (Pavetti, 2015). These are all skills that are necessary for success in the workplace. These executive skills play an important role in a person’s success in setting and achieving goals, a critical component of obtaining and advancing in a family-sustaining career.
Career & Life Coaching helps parents set long-term goals and then break these into attainable smaller goals, a method that has been shown to be effective in helping adults build executive skills. Other key methods include practicing new skills in real-world contexts and scaffolding support, prepare parents for the transition out of the coaching partnership. This approach takes time, frequent contact, and a high level of trust between parent and coach. This behavior change does not happen overnight, but is dependent on continual practice, reinforcement, and perceived results.
Best U Pilot
Soft skills are a cluster of personal qualities, habits, attitudes, and social abilities that create opportunities for a worker to think about how to improve their productivity and employability in the workforce. Employers often see these skills as both lacking in entry-level employees and essential for job retention and career advancement. While certain soft skills vary by employment sector, there is a common focus on problem solving, communication, and collaboration across sectors.
Many existing service providers offer course-based skill development without practical hands-on learning. However, our research reveals these types of skill development courses do not effectively prepare parents to retain jobs and engage in career advancement opportunities. To address this skill development gap, The Prosperity Agenda, parents and service providers developed Best U, which is an applied soft skills development program integrated into TANF's transitional jobs program in Washington State. The Best U approach began its pilot phase in September 2016 at five Community Jobs providers in Snohomish, Kitsap, Pierce, and Yakima Counties.
In this work-based, soft skills development program, parents learn to understand and stop negative thought patterns and responses, how to communicate and work in a team, and how to set goals that motivate change. The lessons learned in this work-based program are complementary to other skills such as interviewing tips and resume writing, which are taught elsewhere in TANF programming.
Career Readiness Project Evaluation
Both the Career & Life Coaching pilot and Best U are undergoing both process and outcome evaluations. A final report summarizing the findings from the two Career Readiness Project pilots will be released in March 2017.