Moving from Jobs to Careers

Engaging Low-Wage Workers in Career Advancement

By Betsy L. Tessler, David Seith, Zawadi Rucks

The Work Advancement and Support Center (WASC) demonstration presents a new approach to helping low-wage and dislocated workers take strategic steps to advance — by increasing their wages or work hours, upgrading their skills, or finding better jobs. At the same time, these workers are encouraged to increase and stabilize their income in the short term by making the most of available work supports, such as food stamps, public health insurance, subsidized child care, and tax credits for eligible low-income families. The WASC program — located mostly in the One-Stop Career Centers created by the Workforce Investment Act — is being delivered by integrated teams of workforce and human services professionals in four sites: Dayton, Ohio; San Diego, California; Bridgeport, Connecticut; and Fort Worth, Texas. Based on interviews with staff and focus groups with WASC customers, this report presents preliminary information on the effectiveness of strategies that were used to attract people to the WASC program, engage them in services, and keep them engaged over time.

Key Findings

  • Recruitment of low-wage workers for a voluntary postemployment program must be resourced with sufficient staff and funding to reach and engage people while also having the capacity to immediately begin providing services for those who are enrolled in the program.

  • Advancement programs for low-wage workers should be prepared to help participants get the training necessary to move into a new career. Most WASC participants preferred to leave their jobs and move into a new career rather than seek more hours or a promotion in their current job.

  • Cash incentives may be an effective way to sustain engagement in a postemployment program like WASC and possibly to encourage completion of education or training.

  • Most focus group participants took up the work supports for which they were eligible and appreciated the ease of addressing all work support issues in the same office with staff people with whom they had a relationship.

  • WASC participants most appreciated coaching that combined knowledgeable guidance with a strong rapport. They deeply valued the role of coach as a motivator and a source of encouragement.

A report describing the complete implementation story — based on additional interviews and survey data — as well as early results of the program will be completed in early 2009.

Document Details

Publication Type
December 2008
Tessler, Betsy L., David Seith, and Zawadi Rucks. 2008. Moving from Jobs to Careers. New York: MDRC.