That has Grand Rapids-based Cascade Engineering Inc. and The SOURCE turning to welfare-to-career programs to not only help people in poverty find jobs, but also to show companies that it makes sense to invest time and resources into those programs.
The two groups are planning a Sept. 27 conference to highlight best practices for businesses, community partners and government organizations in developing sustainable career pathways programs modeled after programs at Cascade and The SOURCE. Representatives from both organizations will discuss the challenges they had to overcome to implement the programs as well as the opportunities for communities with welfare-to-work programs.
Cascade developed its welfare-to-career program as a way of helping train and retain employees who come from a background of poverty. The program focuses on identifying and bridging the gaps to employment for those on welfare, clearly communicating employment expectations and offering early intervention if employee habits suddenly change.
Between 1999 and 2007, Cascade Engineering implemented the program and improved its employee retention rate from 47.5 percent to 97 percent. This success caused groups across the nation to take notice, according to Kelley Losey, business unit manager at Cascade Consulting Group. The company has since helped other organizations implement similar systems.
“We’ve been partnering with groups in Colorado who have been asking, ‘How do we create this collaboration? How does the welfare-to-career model work?’” Losey said.
The model hinges on collaboration with the State of Michigan. The company pays the state to have an onsite Department of Human Services caseworker to assist employees newly off welfare. Supervisors and managers work with the DHS caseworker to ensure that management is equipped to adequately help and train employees in the program.
“People coming from poverty are often lacking resources other than financial resources,” said Losey.
According to Losey, employees in the welfare-to-career program often deal with issues at home, ranging from lack of childcare options to the presence of substance abusers. By having a caseworker on site, managers are made aware of any behavioral changes that might reflect issues at home.
“We wanted to gain the reputation of a business that focused on the wellbeing of employees and employee retention,” said Losey.
The SOURCE was developed by a group of Grand Rapids-based manufacturers — including Cascade Engineering — to provide similar services to all employees. Randy Osmun, executive director of The SOURCE, highlighted the fact that this company-organized nonprofit was designed not just for the direct benefit of employees, but also for the ancillary benefits afforded to employers.
“The purpose (of The SOURCE) is to meet the needs of employers by meeting needs of employees,” said Osmun.
Not just geared at assisting employees newly off welfare, The SOURCE also uses private caseworkers to assist all employees.
“We hired private caseworkers to meet with anyone regardless of income,” said Osmun.
These caseworkers were particularly important to middle-class employees struggling with foreclosure issues related to the financial and housing crises of 2008 and 2009.
Planners say the conference aims to provide attendees with a firsthand understanding of the challenges and resources required to implement welfare-to-career programs. Cost is $150. The program will be held at the The SOURCE in Grand Rapids. Speakers include Cascade Engineering CEO Fred Keller and Butterball Farms CEO Mark Peters. Contact (616) 516-1451 for more information.