This resource assesses the implementation and early effects of two programs in Eugene and Medford, Oregon, which provided individualized employment retention and career advancement services to low- wage workers, including counseling on how to find a better job, assistance in accessing education and training programs, advice on conflict resolution on the job, and referrals to supportive services.

The ERA programs in Eugene and Medford began in early 2002 and operated through mid-2005. They were designed to improve employment retention and career advancement outcomes among recently employed leavers of the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program; for employed food stamp recipients; or for working people who were receiving government-provided, employment-related daycare benefits. Both ERA programs offered participants employment retention and career advancement services and involved significant levels of collaboration between different institutions to manage operations. In both sites, most members of the research sample were single parents, and the two programs operated under the same state welfare rules and under similar labor market conditions.

The programs offered participants individualized career coaching and case management assistance. Site staff worked with participants to write personal career development plans and then provided them with various services to help them stay employed and advance. Services that were focused on employment retention included job coaching, referrals to supportive services, budgeting and financial planning, and advice on conflict resolution in the workplace. Career advancement services included job search activities, career coaching, help with résumé development, help with enrolling in education and training opportunities, and assistance in applying for financial aid.


Major Findings & Recommendations

Staff in both programs provided individualized employment retention and advancement services but also encountered unanticipated levels of demand for reemployment services. Staff assisted clients –– all of whom were working as of random assignment –– in developing career plans and provided counseling on how to advance on the job or find a better job and also made referrals to education or training programs. Frequent contact was emphasized, and assistance was tailored to participants’ career goals and interests. Clients experienced frequent job loss, however, requiring staff to redirect their efforts to rapid reemployment and detracting from the career counseling envisioned for the program.

In addition, funding and staffing cuts limited the ability of staff, particularly in the Medford program, to provide the full array of services throughout operations. The programs tended to serve the most highly motivated clients or those who were in crisis. Compared with their respective control groups, both programs moderately increased participation in retention- and advancement-related activities. Both programs increased individuals’ likelihood of getting help with finding a better job while working or with career assessment. In addition, the Eugene program increased the proportion of individuals who received help with job search and job preparation, while the Medford ERA program increased the proportion of individuals who participated in education or training activities.

Still, differences in service receipt or participation between the program and control groups were smaller than expected. Neither program increased employment retention or advancement during the first 1.5 years of follow-up. The results suggest that offering counseling and coaching to low-wage workers in the manner done by these two programs may not be enough to increase their likelihood of remaining employed or advancing. MDRC will continue to track the longer-term impacts of these two programs on employment and earnings.