One promising strategy for rewarding work seeks to create career ladders to enable low-wage workers to advance through a progression of higher-skilled and better-paid jobs. This approach requires several elements. Employers need to become more explicit about how they structure jobs and routes to career advancement. Workers need access to job-specific training. Institutionally, this endeavor usually requires both an intermediary, such as a community college or a union, and a supportive government strategy to fund and connect all the elements. Even so, many low-wage jobs do not logically lead to higher-paid ones, and a career-ladder strategy is a complement, not a substitute, for better pay, professionalization, and security throughout the job chain.
Most career-ladder programs are organized by industrial sectors or clusters of occupations. For example, in Chicago, a community organization, Bethel New Life, is trying to move women who work as certified nursing assistants into jobs as licensed practical nurses (LPNs) or, eventually, registered nurses (RNs). In the Seattle area, Shoreline Community College moves welfare recipients from entry-level positions to increasingly better jobs in four occupational clusters. The Milwaukee Graphic Arts Institute's Printing Connections program trains nontraditional recruits, such as women coming off welfare, for work in the printing industry, which then has its own internal ladders to skilled trades.
In our examination of career-ladder strategies, we've found some heartening success stories but also a good deal of lingering resistance. Most people, after all, stay in the same occupation and often the same job for a fairly long time. The economy is continuing to produce many millions of jobs such as nurse's aide, janitor, retail sales clerk, mail room worker, and others that need to pay better wages in their own right as well as being restructured as springboards to something better. Still, the career-ladder approach could be broadly beneficial if its potential were maximized. Our exploration of career-ladder programs in several states and industries raises these questions:
What kinds of intermediaries or sponsors work best?
What overall labor-market strategy serves as a conducive policy environment?
What financial resources are needed?
How does the career-ladder approach interact with welfare reform?
How important are unions?
How resistant are employers (and, in some cases, other employees)?
What prevents low-wage workers from taking advantage of available training programs?
How do downsizing and outsourcing constrain career ladders?
Unwilling Employers, Inexperienced Workers
Career-ladder strategies depend on employers being willing to create jobs with advancement potential and to think explicitly about the company's internal labor market. But in many cases, there is employer resistance. Many companies have downsized their labor force and outsourced their work, thus changing the nature of the ladder--the first rung is now higher, and some rungs along the way up may be missing. Some employers simply find it more cost-effective to rely on a casual, high-turnover, low-wage work force, and naturally resist making their internal labor market more explicit and better structured. The makeup of the work force trying to climb the ladder is increasingly darker and more female than companies are used to seeing, and many firms are not programmed to offer nontraditional ladders to women and minorities. Some industries, such as printing and metalworking, are dominated by small firms with short ladders, and in the absence of deliberate strategies, it may be difficult to advance by moving among firms. And then there's the issue of maintaining status within some occupations. Registered nurses, for example, justifiably proud that their profession requires a college degree, may resist efforts to make the RN credential more accessible to experienced health workers via on-the-job training--again, keeping that first rung high.
There are also obstacles from the would-be climbers themselves. To attach oneself to the labor market and commit to advancement on the job means trade-offs and adjustments in other areas of life. Many people coming off welfare or otherwise working full time for the first time find these adjustments difficult. There are real obstacles to continuing education: parenting responsibilities, financial costs, child care arrangements, and a general scarcity of time. Unless time off and financial subsidy are available for training, the next rung may be out of reach. This same cluster of family demands, transportation problems, and so on, may create a spotty work history, which then leads the employer to be skeptical of whether the worker belongs on a ladder to a better job. Race and gender issues also play a role here as well as on the employer side. It may be difficult for workers to find mentors or models, formal or informal, to whom they can look and say, "Well, if they made it, so can I."
Finally, there are public-policy obstacles. Despite several generations of labor market policy, most states and cities have not structured their programs to maximize the potential of career ladders. Yet good programs have managed to overcome these obstacles and demonstrate real success.
Health Care Ladders
Health care is seemingly an ideal sector to pursue a career-ladder strategy. It has lots of entry-level and paraprofessional positions, and demand will continue to grow with the aging of the population, the growth of community-based care, and the downsizing of hospital care. But are there career ladders for, say, dietary aides or certified nursing assistants (CNAs)? It depends. Three approaches are noteworthy: moving people into progressively better-paying occupations that require more education or training, increasing the pay and professionalization of jobs that currently exist, and creating tiers within occupations that offer pay increases.
Bethel New Life, a church-based community development corporation on Chicago's West Side, started the Health Care Career Ladder project to provide training and support services for low-income women in health care occupations. Bethel staff hoped to start trainees in home health aide skills, then move them to CNA, then to LPN, RN, or other allied health professions such as respiratory therapist, lab technician, or phlebotomist.
Of the 150 participants who began as home health aides in the past three years, 95 (63 percent) have completed CNA training, but only five are enrolled in community college RN programs, and to date, none has moved into other better-paying technical jobs such as phlebotomist. Of the 95, 59 are still working, mostly in nursing homes, and are earning an average hourly wage of $7.20. While this is a big gain over the $5.40 they made as home health aides, it's not yet a living wage. Most of the women find the transition to employment difficult and need at least six weeks to adjust to employment before attempting to enroll in the CNA program while working. CNA seems more a stopping point than a starting point, as other programs take a long time to complete on top of a full-time job. A few CNAs have had supervisory and quality control tasks added to their jobs, which have raised their hourly wage, but only by 30-50 cents an hour. Without going into the LPN or RN training, their only avenue for wage enhancement is moving from nursing homes to hospitals, where wages tend to be higher. Two participants working as CNAs in hospitals are earning $11 an hour.
Bethel's experience is not unique. The Annie E. Casey Foundation's $30 million Jobs Initiative program, which began in 1995, reports success stories in connecting low-income communities to job opportunities in office occupations, construction, and manufacturing. But organizations in Seattle and Denver participating in the Casey Jobs Initiative have had difficulty extracting commitments from the health care industry to structure ladders for advancement.
The National Network of Career Nursing Assistants tends to be skeptical of career ladders and focuses instead on improving recognition, pay, quality of training, and professionalization generally. Director Genevieve Gipson sees high turnover as a function of the low wages, lack of benefits, unreasonable work demands, lack of advancement opportunities, and lack of respect given to the job. She notes that it is impossible for CNAs to perform their five main responsibilities--bathing, feeding, eliminating, ambulating, dressing--for up to 20 patients in a shift. The stress of overwork is a major factor in job dissatisfaction. Her study of job leavers found that many are good workers and like the job but can't earn a sufficient income to support their families as CNAs; that what nurse's assistants want most is the opportunity for professional growth and advancement within their present occupation. The majority who have five or more years of seniority aren't interested in other jobs. What they want is pay raises as they achieve higher levels of competency. What they get is higher expectations without pay raises. Some CNAs specialize in more intensive-care areas such as oncology or restorative care, but typically there are neither pay raises associated with these specializations nor recognition that they even are specializations. Another unrecognized and uncompensated specialization of more experienced CNAs is helping with on-the-job training of entry-level workers. But experienced workers are not explicitly trained for this role, nor are they provided a support system for doing it.
The network and the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) are trying to get specializations and the training role recognized as job titles, with training and higher pay associated with them. Given the limited success of community-based career-ladder programs in health care occupations, improving the working conditions and pay of CNAs might be more effective than focusing on job ladders.
One well-known program that takes this approach is Cooperative Home Care Associates (CHCA), founded in 1985 in the South Bronx. CHCA is a worker cooperative that provides high-quality workers to health care agencies. It has convinced home health care agencies of the advantages of paying higher wages for better-trained employees. The program provides considerably more training than the two-week minimum federal requirement and three-week requirement in the state of New York. The entry-level program includes four weeks of on-site classroom training followed by 90 days of on-the-job training. While the industry is characterized by part-time work and low wages, CHCA's employees are paid starting hourly wages between $7 and $8. Approximately 70 percent are employed full time. At CHCA, full-time employees are eligible for health insurance, paid vacation, and sick days as well as life insurance.
There are two opportunities for job upgrading at CHCA. First, employees are encouraged to apply for administrative jobs. Of the 35 current administrative staffers, 12 were former home health aides. Second, employees are encouraged to continue their education. CHCA partners with Bronx College in offering home care classes through which students can earn up to 12 credits. A third program now being developed will offer home health aides additional training and wages to work with disabled people. CHCA employs 500 in the Bronx, 85 percent of whom were receiving some form of public assistance upon entering the program. CHCA has far less turnover--about 18 percent annually--than most agencies that provide nurse's aides, because the job is normalized and professionalized rather than treated as cheap, casual labor.
The Crucial Role of Unions
Notwithstanding the appeal of the co-op model, the single most effective strategy both for improving pay and working conditions and for creating career ladders for paraprofessional health workers is unionization. The average hourly wage for a union nursing assistant is $10.17, while the average nonunion assistant earns $8.55. Just being unionized, with no career ladders, improves average wages by almost 20 percent. And many SEIU union locals that represent health care workers have negotiated career ladders into their contracts. Nancy Mills, director of the AFL-CIO Center for Workplace Democracy, notes that there are hundreds of career-ladder programs throughout the country negotiated by union locals.
For example, the Cape Cod Hospital career-ladder program was created through an agreement with SEIU Local 767. The program offers classes for union members in nonprofessional occupations such as housekeeper or dietary assistant. The program also represents a commitment to promoting from within. About 80 percent of all job openings in the hospital are promotions from lower positions.
Working with the joint labor-management committee to develop the courses has helped human-resource staff re-evaluate the precise skill requirements of occupations. Two courses that underpin any further training, medical terminology and computer data entry, are taught on site by community college staff. The program is designed to make continuing education as easy as possible. Courses are offered between shifts--meaning that employees can quit one hour early or start one hour later to take a class offered on site. Thus, the hospital and the employee each donate an hour to continuing education. This deal is only available for courses offered on site, which are basic education classes. There is a $25 fee for courses, which is refunded on completion of the course.
The hospital also offers traineeships, aimed mainly at teaching workers how to do additional procedures within an occupation. For example, a licensed and registered X-ray technician can learn how to do CT scans on the job. Then, when that position becomes vacant, the employee becomes eligible to advance into it. There is a tuition reimbursement program for continuing education off site. The hospital and union jointly publish an annual job-ladders book for employees. The book lists all jobs and their requirements. Workers can find their existing jobs and identify the exact requirements of another job including classes, degrees, or certificates. Further, the book lists the assistance available, through the hospital or elsewhere, to complete the courses needed.
The job-ladder program was negotiated between the hospital and the union local. Both consider it a win-win. The union ensures opportunities for its members, and the hospital reduces turnover and saves money in outside training and recruiting since most positions are filled from within. Hospital officials are very enthusiastic about the program.
Good as the program is, the most frequent job advancement is from housekeeping to secretarial or clerical support staff. But unionization makes even these jobs relatively well-paying. Most nonprofessionals at the hospital start at $10.19 per hour with full benefits. CNAs with no experience start at $11.37 an hour and can advance to $15.91. But few CNAs advance to other positions. Employee Relations Manager Arthur LaChance cites the difficulties of trying to continue one's holding down a full-time job and raising a family as a major barrier to advancement. Kim Evon, a staff representative at Local 767, notes that some CNAs do not want to move to RN, but do take advantage of programs in occupations such as radiation technician or billing clerk.
In Philadelphia, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) District 1199C Training and Upgrading Fund offers one solution for moving CNAs into LPN positions. The fund is a trust negotiated between the union local and the hospitals and nursing homes and other health care facilities, to which management contributes 1.5 percent of gross payroll. It serves over 10,000 workers annually through various training programs, counseling, placement, certification testing, and workshops. The fund just opened a school of practical nursing that is approved by the Pennsylvania Board of Nursing. Because the union receives grants from the Department of Labor and other government funding sources and foundations, it can make the program available to community residents as well as union members.
The first LPN class of 31 students started last March. The program extends the full-time, year-long course to 18 months because it is offered on evenings and weekends to accommodate work schedules. Tuition is $7,100. Union members may apply for tuition reimbursement, leaves of absence with stipends, and other forms of assistance. Over the next two years, 80 scholarships will be available to RN and LPN students through a U.S. Department of Labor H1-B grant and employer matches. Welfare-to-work program community members are also eligible for scholarships.
Students who want to advance, but don't have the math or English skills, have several options. The state funds a free course for applicants to prepare for the LPN admission test. The union fund offers two levels of prenursing prep that combine English, math, and anatomy. This has been an important vehicle for recruiting people away who may not qualify initially. Half the students in the first class had to take at least one of the basic education or prenursing courses. According to Cheryl Feldman, coordinator of the fund's Leaning Center, the Philadelphia area has a shortage of LPNs, so graduates are practically guaranteed a job. Union CNAs make $13 an hour in hospitals and $8-10 in nursing homes. Working as LPNs, they would make over $20 an hour.
In addition, the training fund encourages entry-level workers to advance by offering other courses on site and providing scholarships of $10,000 with leaves of absence and stipends to union members for completing college and vocational school courses. Occupations include therapeutic support service aide, claims processing clerk, and mental health/mental retardation worker.
Nontraditional Workers in Printing Trades
A whole other strategy is to help nontraditional applicants overcome barriers to highly paid occupations that have well-established career ladders within or among employers. This is typical of the skilled, and highly unionized, trades. For most of the skilled trades, the attraction is less the career ladder than the high wages. Printing, as a very long established trade, offers a richer set of career ladders than other trades where one is either an apprentice or a journeyman.
Mary Roberts (not her real name), 31, has lived in Milwaukee for 15 years and has had several short-term jobs. With three school-age children, she left a stint on a second-shift office cleaning crew about six months ago, when her nine year old fell behind in school because Roberts was not around at night to help with homework. She supports herself with a combination of public assistance, some child support, and occasional gifts from family members. But when the youngest started school full time last fall, she decided to find a job with career prospects. Her case worker at the local job center referred her to a program at the Milwaukee Graphic Arts Institute called Printing Connections for entry-level printing industry training. The institute also does incumbent worker training and helps guide entry-level workers along a career path once they have finished the Connections training and have gotten a job.
Connections incorporates much of what is considered best practice in job training. It has strong employer partnerships, with several companies committed to hiring graduates of each training class. Even so, there has been relatively little mobility within the printing trades to date. Of the 110 total placements since August 1997, 88 workers were working as of December 1999, 60 for printing companies. But just seven have risen up the career ladder, and 17 have experienced wage gains. (Only 12 received training in late 1999.) As a Connections staff person explains, "Advancement means a more complex network of move-ups from company to company. This is actually the way most printers have developed their careers--bouncing from one shop to a better shop, etcetera, until they land the best-skilled job. Only a few shops offer a cradle-to-grave type of career growth."
Compounding the problem are occupational and technological changes. Computerization has brought an explosion of printed material. Computers have eliminated several specialties but also have increased the volume of printed matter dramatically. The effect on occupational ladders has been multifaceted. On the one hand, relatively more workers are needed in the bindery and finishing areas, which tend to be lower skilled, but more sophisticated workers are needed in the press and prepress areas. It is not that "middle" occupations or career ladders have disappeared. Rather, lower-skilled jobs (stitching, cutting, folding, etcetera) have increased at a faster rate than higher-skilled ones such as press operator.
Also, employers are struggling to understand a new work force that is usually not male and not white. As Renee Zakhar, a recruiter for Connections, explains, "One of the keys here is to get at the fact that the career paths in printing were defined for the 1940s and 1950s. Young boys followed their dads or uncles to work, spent years working their way up, got the inside scoop from their family and peers. Today's work force comes from a different background, with and without different skills and issues, including family responsibilities."
Although many of these new workers are not yet advancing, they are at least keeping their jobs at a higher rate than people in many other skills training programs. In large part, this is due to the effort that Connections staff have put into building and maintaining relationships. Project staff have to find potential trainees, get companies on board, secure funding streams, and coordinate the myriad details that such undertakings require. They serve as personal intermediaries between the employees and the employers, each of whom is struggling to understand the other and the new work force situation they face.
The Two Worlds of Banking
A number of community colleges and community organizations offer bank teller training as part of their welfare-to-work programs. The experience of a teller training program developed at Wright College, one of Chicago's city colleges, however, suggests that there are great obstacles but also windows of opportunity in creating banking career ladders for entry-level workers.
Developed in 1996, Bank Tellers and Beyond devised a comprehensive 13-week occupations program that prepares students with eighth-grade reading and math levels for teller jobs paying between $8 and $11.50 per hour. The college personnel enlisted a consortium of banks to identify needed competencies and build a curriculum. Banking professionals are used as instructors. Students must have a high school diploma or be enrolled in a GED program. The program starts with general "soft" employment skills (employability, intensive customer service, communications, math for banking), then moves on to basic bank operations and regulations, 10-key pad proficiency, cash handling, process and procedures, and computer literacy. The bank partners assist in student selection using a screening instrument developed with the college to provide some instructors for classroom teaching, and conduct mock interviews. Some of the banks are assisting with scholarship funds for needy students. In the early years of the course, graduates attended a monthly seminar after placement for assessing their work performance, learning stress management techniques and building job-keeping skills.
The program had all the right stuff--good curriculum, employer involvement, support services, and postplacement follow-up--yet the retention rate of early graduates at most banks was no higher than that of those hired "off the street." Few tellers advanced. The banks expressed little interest in the college developing further courses to build skills for advancement.
Why? Because the teller position has never been a reliable route upward. For centuries, bankers divided their workers into a clerical force that included tellers and higher-paid "platform" positions. And in the past 15 years, direct depositing, telephone banking, the Internet, and most significantly automated teller machines (ATMs) have dramatically restructured the job of teller--but for the most part have not upgraded it.
Slightly over half of all bank transactions still take place at the teller window. ATMs have, however, changed the nature of what tellers do. In some banks, the use of ATMs for routine banking transactions has led to the upgrading of teller positions. More frequently, though, tellers still conduct only routine transactions, while customer service representatives and officers, typically college graduates, open new accounts and sell bank products such as loans and CDs. The percentage of banking jobs accounted for by sales workers nearly doubled between 1983-1985 and 1993-1995.
With the emphasis on sales, many banks changed telling from a predominantly full-time position to a part- and peak-time job with even less opportunity for moving into better or full-time positions. We interviewed six human-resource directors at six large Chicago banks, who told us that teller turnover rates were between 60 and 80 percent. As a result, banks are always looking for tellers. Two directors mentioned that the increase in part-time and peak-time scheduling has reduced employee loyalty, particularly in banks that make it clear to prospective employees that neither part- nor peak-time jobs are stepping stones to full-time positions. Thus, many entry-level employees see their position as temporary or transitional and leave as soon as another opportunity emerges. Banks have adapted to high turnover by hiring college or high school students, knowing that they will not stay on after graduation. Treating tellers as casual labor seems more cost-effective to managers than making the teller position a permanent first rung on a career ladder.
There are, however, exceptions. Some banks are recognizing that tellers are the front line for customer contact. Laura O'Kuly, who has hired and trained entry-level workers for customer services and tellers for the First National Bank of Chicago (now merged with Bank One), points out that as customers used to ATMs and online banking are more savvy, they no longer confront tellers or customer service representatives with basic questions like "What's my balance?" By the time they get to a front-line, live person, they have more sophisticated questions such as "How did you calculate my finance charge?" O'Kuly maintains that banks have historically ignored skills-upgrading of these customer-line functions. But recently First Chicago and other banks have recognized the value of investing more in their front-line work force, both in training and in offering full-time employment.
According to Nancy Bellew, at Bank Tellers and Beyond, the program has evolved into a unique training endeavor that emphasizes skill sets needed by the new customer-serviceoriented tellers. The postplacement seminar has evolved into an ongoing mentoring program. Citibank now hires former welfare recipients trained by the program at starting salaries of $22,000, and has just invested $20,000 in scholarships; other banks are discussing having the program develop skills-upgrading courses. These developments have already begun to improve retention rates and job satisfaction. Even so, banking has a long way to go before it becomes a model industry for career ladders.
The Community College As Intermediary
Shoreline Community College in Seattle is one of the few community colleges integrating career ladders into its welfaretowork programs. The Job Ladder Partnership involves Shoreline and six other community or technical colleges with employers in creating work and learning pathways in four occupational clusters: manufacturing, customer relations, health services, and information technology.
Funding for the program is the result of the commitment of Governor Gary Locke to focus welfare reform on moving people out of poverty and not just off welfare. Locke sees the state's community college system as essential in accomplishing this goal. To realize it, the state of Washington made an initial transfer of $17 million from the Department of Social and Health Services to the State Board for Community and Technical Colleges in 1998. The funds were earmarked for developing programs to promote job advancement and wage progression. In 1999 an additional $20 million was allocated for the programs.
Dr. Holly Moore, vice president for work force and economic development at Shoreline, organized a partnership of the six community colleges serving the suburban parts of the county to work together on developing a coordinated strategy for using the new funds. Although each college develops its own programs, the colleges share business partners and stagger offerings. One college may offer a course in the evenings if another is offering it during the day. Elsewhere, the network of community colleges is often fragmented and competitive.
A guiding principle of Shoreline's Job Ladder Partnership is to combine education and work as much as possible. Students go through an initial assessment and are then placed into the preemployment program, work, remedial classes, or English as a second language classes. As soon as students have enough skills to begin an entry-level job in one of the chosen sectors, they have to combine work and continuing education (see chart). Students develop a career plan early on and work with a counselor to keep moving ahead on their career goals.
The career ladders are not necessarily rungs within a single business or even a sector. Rather, they are based on clusters of skills that could prepare students for any number of occupations.
The career pathways depicted in the chart identify many possibilities for advancement. A retention specialist, who serves as liaison between student and employer, works with students in choosing one of the paths. A computerized careerplanning tool, the Career Pathway Passport, is being developed. The interactive program will allow students, working with their retention specialist, to develop career plans and document their progress. The Passport will have two databases--one listing available jobs in the four career pathways offered by the employer partners, and another containing the education programs offered by the six partner colleges in these fields, with contact names listed.
Toward Sturdier Ladders
Our tour of career-ladder strategies suggests several conclusions for policy makers. Ladders will succeed or fail depending on whether these lessons are learned and implemented.
State government policy matters. Washington has facilitated the Job Ladder Partnership at Shoreline Community College in two ways. First, the state earmarked funds from Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) savings specifically for developing job ladders for lowincome workers, while many other states have left hundreds of millions in TANF savings unspent. Second, Washington has been a leader in education reform throughout the 1990s. The secondary and community college systems are moving from diplomas based on seat time to certificates of mastery based on skills. At a time when more and more employers are saying they want skills, not diplomas, this move has given career-ladder programs such as Shoreline's an edge in delivering workers who come on board ready.
Industry structure matters. Some industries don't have viable career ladders. The printing industry is dominated by small firms, and so advancements must take place between firms rather than in the same firm, making those steps more difficult. Printing is also, like many manufacturing industries, traditionally male, with both workers and employers struggling against conventional ideas about who "belongs" on the ladder. Despite programs to introduce women into nontraditional and well-paying blue-collar jobs, women and minorities are often skeptical that they will be welcomed; many aim instead for a college degree. As a Connections participant put it, "I walked into the shop, and I didn't see anybody like me." For a different set of reasons, entry-level positions in banking have few career ladders. In both cases, helping people to move up requires more intensive intervention from intermediaries like those described in the Printing Connections and Shoreline job-ladder programs.
Relationships matter. Successful programs have long-term staff members who build and maintain relationships with recruitment sources, employers, and workers themselves. Nancy Bellew, who has been with the program since its inception, was able to maintain relationships with Chicago banking employers and to devise continuous incremental improvements. Unsuccessful programs invariably have high staff turnover. The corollary is that programs need the long-term funding and institutional support that allow this kind of lengthy programmatic focus.
Unions matter. Unionized workers in entry-level positions, such as janitors or CNAs, earn more and have benefits. Many people in these positions have neither the desire nor the ability to move into a more advanced position. Rather than assuming that everyone wants to engage in lifelong learning, we need policies to ensure that everyone who works should earn a decent wage and have health benefits as well as opportunities to pursue advancement. Unions are our single best bet for making this happen. For those who do choose to advance, some union locals have negotiated upgrade training into their contracts.
Evidence from the Cape Cod Hospital program and the AFSCME District 1199C Training and Upgrading Fund suggests that because union training programs are negotiated directly with employers, they may have an edge over other intermediaries with weaker knowledge of, or leverage on, employers. The long jump from teller to customer service representative is not surprising, given that banking is almost entirely nonunion.
Mapping matters. Career ladders are not always linear. Cape Cod Hospital, Shoreline, and the Connections project provide employees and students with guidance on exactly what it takes to get from one point to another in a career ladder. This is especially critical when that ladder involves moving from company to company as in the printing industry.
Family situation matters. Career ladders aren't for everyone. In almost every interview, we were told that for many women it is hard enough to manage full-time work and family responsibilities, let alone fit in a continuing education. Recent research by Kathryn Edin and Laura Lein indicates that single mothers making an adequate wage will forgo further time investments in training in order to spend time at home with their children.
Findings from the New Hope welfare-to-work demonstration project in Milwaukee bear this out. (See Gordon L. Berlin, "Welfare That Works," page 70). Low-income workers chose time with families over more training or schooling. However, the availability of subsidy also matters and can offset this tension. Cape Cod Hospital's experience suggests that participation in education programs increases when at least some of it is on company time. But perhaps even more important, according to Nancy Mills, national work force coordinator at the AFL-CIO, is that people are willing to enroll in continuing education only when the connections to a better job and higher pay are guaranteed.
Although some graduates are eager to continue their education while working, others find that the adjustment from not working to going to school, then to employment, is enough of a life change. John Lederer of Shoreline College explains, "When you're dealing with a single parent who has been out of the labor force, going to school is very new, intensive, and stressful. Then they are placed in a job. They have a lot vested in that job. Several students have declined to go back to school right away, telling me that they need to focus on the job if they're going to succeed."
On balance, career ladders are not a magic bullet, but they can be an important part of a national commitment to make work pay. We already know enough, from various experiments, about what works. What is missing is the political will to take full advantage of this approach. u
- The Urban Institute:
- Issue Focus: The Working Poor
- Improving the Upward Mobility of Low-Skill Workers: The Case of the Health Industry
- Welfare Reform and Opportunity in the Low-Wage Labor Market
- See the full list of Making Work Pay links.
- Improving the Upward Mobility of Low-Skill Workers: The Case of the Health Industry
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