The Pursuit of Lasting Change
On March 21, 2017, Chief Program Officer, Haidee Cabusora, discussed the implications for field and policy change at the launch event of WorkBOOST NYC’s second cohort. Below is a transcript of her remarks:
WorkBOOST’s premise is very straightforward: By building financial security, we are going to amplify your programs’ workforce outcomes. And, that’s not just a theory of change. What we are trying to do is make a business case about it. As Mae [Watson Grote] referred to earlier, we are seeing early evidence of increased participation, completion rates, hourly wages going up, and fabulous work by our partners. And so, we’re really trying to move from that intuitive and long-standing sense that there is a connection between financial security and job placement and retention, and trying to gather the evidence and hone in on it.
We’re also trying to make sure that this work is aligned to what workforce organizations are already doing. As Yanni [Deconescu] mentioned, Opportunities for a Better Tomorrow has done fabulous work in making sure that WorkBOOST is not just an addition but fulfills their WIOA requirements. How to think creatively about alignment and integration so that it’s not duplicative but really helpful in an organization’s overall strategy.
We’re also working on how to really leverage our best practices, the lessons that we’re learning from ourselves, from Erica [Mancinas] and Implementation Leads, and the partners themselves, and making up a whole new suite of materials that will be helpful for the workforce field going forward. So we’re working with Corporation for a Skilled Workforce in a project supported by MetLife Foundation, and we’re thinking about what are the specific tools that can help any workforce organization. Perhaps a job readiness checklist that might include questions on – in addition to ‘is your resume typo free?’ – ‘do you have a financial goal?’ I don’t have to meet Alex [Holt]’s reference to a 77 year-old individual job seeker to know that he or she has a financial goal. Another question that might be on it is ‘do you have the right education certification or degree for that job?’ Maybe a question might be ‘do you have a bank account or a prepaid card that you can get your wages directly deposited into?’ Those are as important for getting a job these days as the actual qualifications of a candidate.
In addition to that, we are going to be looking into the ‘white whale’ or ‘dragons eggs’ question of what are the nexus of outcomes that sit squarely between financial security and workforce. We have a fabulous core of financial coaches probably right now talking about reducing debt with customers across New York City. But we’re pretty agnostic – for financial security, we don’t care about the sources and we don’t care what the amount is. We’re about changing habits and behaviors and gaining knowledge. But how much more powerful is that same outcome, contextualized within a workforce setting? Isn’t it wage garnishments, and the disappointment of getting your first or second paycheck and seeing how much lower it is than you expected, and how it impacts retention rates? So we’re thinking about how financial security outcomes can live and thrive in a workforce setting.
Turning to policy, I actually wanted to thank the advisory group, who played such a critical role in supporting our thought process in the first cohort. They really drove us to think about having the first cohort partners really brainstorm the policy issues. And you can see that work, which is led by Sasha [Ostojic], in a series of Organizational Development sessions which thought out ‘what are the barriers, what are the hurdles they’re seeing on-the-ground, can we come to consensus on it’ and you can see in the prospective outline, three major priorities: The first is the impact of the minimum wage, the second the benefits cliff, and then third, I think something that we all feel, is that increasing complexity of managing your finances through technology and how it can be supportive of accelerating your ability to do so quickly and easily. Especially in a new workforce setting.
We also want to thank the first cohort. They specifically had supported the Clinic and our coalition members’ drive last fall to get the governor to sign into law more opportunities for education savings at tax time. They wrote letters, they signed petitions, and with that law being passed, we can see how powerful translating programs into policy can be. Not just for us, but for workers or tax filers across New York State, or job seekers now across the country.
On that last note, I just want to say, I know how hard this work is. I know, as Yanni and Alex said, it’s hard to talk to people about their financial goals when they think that that’s something you do when you have income. I know it’s hard for staff to learn the language and get comfortable with it. I know it’s a painstaking task of moving organizational cultural change to incorporate new data collection, to do different forms, to learn new schedules of Implementation Leads and supports, and take time out of their busy days to come attend our OD sessions, webinars, and all the trainings that we provide. But I’m also unbelievably inspired by how committed you are – not just for your staff, for the people you serve – but for lasting change. To think beyond those that we serve within our immediate orbit to those that we can’t serve, and how we translate all of the work that we are doing day-in and day-out towards that.