Jobs, jobs, jobs. Every day, we hear about the need for good paying jobs. The same was echoed in CAP Services’ 2013 triennial needs assessment survey of low-income households. In fact, the top five priorities identified were jobs (better-paying), jobs (full-time), jobs (with health insurance), car maintenance/insurance and the inability to pay bills.
Like every community action agency in the United States, CAP Services seeks input from low-income households every three years, and that input helps drive the types of services the organization offers. The need for quality jobs has been a recurring need over past several surveys and, in the late early 1990’s, low-income persons also identified a need to access training that would also allow them to better compete for living wage jobs. It was then, CAP’s Skill Enhancement Program was born.
The Skills Enhancement Program is designed to remove some of the financial barriers that keep working low-income individuals from accessing short-term training that can make them more marketable. It provides financial assistance for tuition, books, and other training-related needs, as well as the costs of training-related child care and transportation costs. Participants work with staff to develop a training plan that provides access to a career job with increased wages and employer-sponsored benefits. Staff provides one-on-one emotional support as well, in a holistic framework that recognizes most low-wage-earners face multiple barriers to becoming self-sufficient.
In 2013, 44 individuals in CAP’s service area successfully completed their training plan and increased their self-sufficiency. The average hourly wage increase of these completers was $6.06 and the average annual increase in household income was just over $17, 200! And now, 70% (31 of the 44) completers have access to employer-sponsored health insurance benefits as well. They were in the program an average of 33.5 months and received an average of $4,241 in direct participant financial assistance, resulting in more than a 4 to 1 return on investment!
CAP’s 2013 results are not an anomaly. The program has operated since 1991 and the average increase in annual household income for all program completers since then is over $11,000. In the past five year, the annual average increases have approached $13,000. The program’s success was recognized by the Annie E Casey Foundation in 2004. The Wisconsin community action network saw it as a best practice program and replicated it statewide in 2005. The community action agency networks’ results are worth noting: in the last 3 years, the average increase in earnings for the 237 program completers statewide as $9,020!
CAP Services anti-poverty work began in 1966. It provides a comprehensive mix of services in Portage, Waupaca, Waushara, Outagamie and Marquette Counties. CAP and its 15 sister organizations around the state employ a number of strategies to lift people out of poverty. The Skills Enhancement Program is only once of them. The model is a win-win-win: individuals increase their economic self-sufficiency; employers gain access to a more skilled workforce; and, communities benefit from the financial stability of its members. Those looking for solutions for addressing the skills gap and better jobs need not look far.