The Metro North Regional Employment Board serving the greater Boston metropolitan area applied its Workforce Innovation Fund grant to implement the CONNECT project. This process improvement initiative was designed to coordinate and co-locate services in the areas of employment, financial education, financial services, skill development, and income and housing stabilization for disadvantaged populations.

The grantee led a partnership of six Boston-area organizations targeting low-wage, low-skilled, and unemployed individuals through the CONNECT project to improve the employment, education, and financial outcomes of its participants by establishing close relationships between staff and participants and offering a targeted selection of services at one location. This report provides an evaluation of the Metro North Regional Employment Board's CONNECT project. The evaluation tracked the implementation of CONNECT, assessed the system-related outcomes, analyzed service use patterns, and assessed client outcome data to increase understanding of the challenges and opportunities related to the innovative aspects of the CONNECT model. This report evaluates the activities at CONNECT between June 2013 and April 2015.

The evaluation consisted of two approaches that included an implementation study that documented the implementation of program components, and the experiences of service providers and participants. The second study was an outcome evaluation that used a pre-post design to explore participant-level outcomes of interest, including educational participation and achievement, employment, income, and financial stability.

The research team applied a mixed-methods approach using both quantitative and qualitative data. Quantitative analyses of demographic, service use, and outcome tracking data included descriptive and inferential statistics. Qualitative analyses were based on interviews with staff at CONNECT, with each of the CONNECT partner organizations, and with external stakeholders. A survey of the management team at baseline and two years later and focus groups and interviews with CONNECT participants.

Major Findings & Recommendations

The implementation study found that:

  • Partners were positive about the overall project structure. They reported a stronger alignment with partner organizations, the use of new approaches, and a positive forum for sharing ideas and addressing challenges.
  • Of 2,820 participants included in the evaluation, 55 percent used employment services most often. Others included: financial education services (46 percent), at least one skill development services (20 percent), or income and housing service (19 percent). About a quarter of the participants used more than one area of service.
  • Participants reported some barriers, such as lack of transportation, waiting lists, and ineligibility for services.

The outcomes study found that:

  • Sixty percent of participants reported being employed at the end of the 18-month follow-up period compared to 44 percent at program entry. Seventy-three percent reported being better able to meet their living expenses than they were at program intake. Sixty percent said CONNECT improved on their financial stability.
  • Participants reported an increase in average annual income between intake and 18 months.
  • Fifteen percent of participants reported receipt of, or enrollment towards, a degree or certificate. Fifty-five percent reported that CONNECT helped improve their education.
  • The length of time participants were engaged in services did not have a statistically significant relationship on education level or financial stability. Still, those who were engaged in services for a longer duration reported lower income gains than those who were in the initiative for a shorter duration.

The evaluators offered recommendations for using the evaluation findings, including:

  1. Adopt a more deliberate definition of a participant and prioritize active participants.
  2. Define “success” in terms of the participants’ self-determined goal. Then, clarify the relationship between services and the measures of success. Map services to meet their needs.
  3. Sustain and strengthen the integrated data system and identify strategies for reducing redundant work.