Performance outcomes are undoubtedly the driving force for most job placement and service-related programs. Sometimes those outcomes are clearly spelled out by the funder. Other times, outcomes are vague, which requires a program to develop their own goals to measure success. One of the expected outcomes for most workforce development programs is job placement and retention. A well-rounded program will also focus on the quality of the services begin provided. However, the pressure to perform and meet numeric goals often transforms service into a “numbers game.” I can’t count the number of case managers and job placement staff who have told me that although they believe service is very important, the pressure is now on meeting monthly or quarterly placement “quotas.”
Most of you know that we are a national Employment Network through Social Security’s Ticket to Work program. We’ve been doing job placement services for people with disabilities since 2009. This program is based strictly on performance outcomes. In fact, payment isn’t made on a case to us until the client is making above a certain income threshold. Any services that are provided to place the client are covered by Human Solutions. However, our primary focus isn’t on numbers. It’s on providing good customer service. We’ve found that by providing our clients with the right tools and the necessary encouragement, if we’ve done a good job with intake and determining program suitability, the placement (in most cases) will follow.
With that said, the road in coming to this determination was fraught with bumps! We’ve moved from a self service program to hands-on customer service every step of the way. And, we’re still learning. Is this more labor intensive, of course! But, it’s benefited both our program and our clients in a number of ways. The following are a few tips for increasing positive outcomes without sacrificing good customer service:
1. Screen clients for appropriateness. If you implement anything, let it be this! A well developed intake process is a critical first step. In the beginning, we enrolled virtually everyone into our program. Quantity seemed more important than quality. We definitely got that wrong! We’ve found that spending 15-30 minute with a client up front let’s us know if their employment goals are consistent with our program and funder requirements. It also let’s us know if they’re a good fit with what our program has to offer. If a potential client would be a better served by another Employment Network based on their goals, we don’t hesitate to refer them. There is no sense in trying to “fit” someone into a program just for quantity sake.
2. Maintain regular contact! When you begin working with someone, find out the best way to stay in contact with them. Some clients may prefer phone, email, or text. Not everyone will want to be contacted in the same way. If possible, customize your approach and, keep it consistent. It’s very easy to lose track of someone, even after a month. Write down alternate ways to reach them – just in case you do lose contact. When it’s time to check in with them, you’ll be glad you did. Having to track someone down is time consuming and not a good use of your limited time.
3. Include next steps. This is a big one. Some of our clients are placed into entry level jobs based on their level experience, skill set, and/or education. If we were to say or act like “this is it,” the likelihood of the client retaining the job would be very low. We talk about next steps throughout the process, including what comes after that entry level job. People need hope. If this is all you have for them, you shouldn’t expect their output to be any greater than what you’ve provided.
4. Keep it real. Don’t be afraid to let a client know what it’s going to take to actually get a job. For example, if it’s going to take submitting 20 resumes per week to yield one job interview, tell them! The goals you set together should be SMART – specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and timely. Just telling someone to submit their resume to job search engines isn’t enough. Spell out what you need and expect. It will make the achievement of goals much easier for the client if they know what they need to do.
5. Acknowledge successes! I think it’s true that it’s the little things that often distinguish your program from someone else’s. A few of the things we do – send birthday and holiday cards, congratulation cards for reaching milestones, and genuinely get just as excited as our clients when they reach a goal. There are many things you can do. Get creative! Sometimes, you may be the only support system a client has. Do your part and acknowledge successes and also encourage them during the challenging times. It’s a great way to connect.