Restoring Opportunity for the Long-Term Unemployed
By Joe Carbone, President and CEO, The Workplace May 10, 2016 01:00 PM
At first glance, employment in the U.S. appears to be on a slow and steady march of improvement. After reaching a high of 10 percent in 2010, the unemployment rate is now down to half of that amount– nearly reaching the 4.7 percent it was back in April 2006. But this promising trend obscures the ongoing struggles of those for whom being unemployed is in itself the biggest obstacle to finding another job.
More than a quarter of all unemployed Americans – 2.2 million people, roughly the population of Houston, Texas – have been without a job for 27 weeks or more, and are considered “long-term unemployed.” These workers are predominantly older (ages 55+), and many have a career’s worth of marketable skills and achievements which ought to give them an advantage in their job search; but as the weeks go by, and the time gap since their last job grows wider, prospective employers begin to overlook them in favor of candidates – even less qualified candidates – who currently have jobs or are only recently unemployed. As despair and debt quickly begin to pile up, the consequences are often financially and psychologically devastating, both for the workers and their families.
In 2011, we sought to take on this complex challenge by launching Platform to Employment (P2E) – a career readiness program which provides the long-term unemployed with the tools, resources and support they need to rejoin the workforce. Participants receive career coaching and professional skills training, such as resume-writing assistance and mock interviews. They gain access to free behavioral health services and, with support from Citi Community Development, receive financial counseling to overcome some of the challenges that result from long-term unemployment. Once participants complete the five week preparatory program, P2E helps participants find jobs with local employers. A dynamic element of the program is providing employers with a financial incentive to consider hiring participants. P2E offers employers an eight-week wage subsidy to cover a participant’s salary while they are given an opportunity to demonstrate they can do the job. Platform to Employment removes the perception of risk for employers, enabling them to evaluate the candidates fairly and without stigma.
For participants like Susan Madsen, who was unemployed for months after a career in the medical device industry, this holistic approach provided her with the support she needed to successfully find a new job.
“Platform to Employment has breathed new life into me,” said Susan. “Sometimes the long term unemployed don’t realize how isolated and detached they have become. Within the first week of this program, the people who didn’t speak the first couple of days became animated and engaged. I feel a sense of community with people in a similar situation. I learned skills relevant to today’s job search process and am confident this program is the reason I found meaningful work.”
Susan isn’t alone. In Connecticut, where the program was first launched, Platform to Employment has served residents from 111 of the state’s 169 towns during the current program year. So far the results are strong, with nearly 87 percent of participants who complete the five-week preparatory program entering a trial work experience with local employers – and of those, 84 percent were hired. Thanks to Citi’s ongoing support, we have been able to expand Platform to Employment to nearly 20 sites around the country, achieving similar results at the city, county and state level. And in 2014, the program’s successes were highlighted by President Obama during a White House convening on long-term unemployment that I attended alongside Bob Annibale of Citi Community Development.
Members of Citi Community Development and I recently had the privilege of welcoming Dr. William Dudley, President and CEO of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, to learn about Platform to Employment and speak with a group of current and prospective participants. Listening to people of all ages and backgrounds talk about their struggles with long-term unemployment was a humbling reminder of how close to home this issue is for all of us.
They are my heroes, the thousands of P2E participants and their families who confronted substantial obstacles and succeeded. The enduring success of these heroes resonates as a shining example of their capacity for self-renewal and acts as a reminder in the national consciousness of what is possible. It underscores the importance of working together across sectors to build more inclusive cities that expand access to economic opportunity for all.
About the Author
Joe Carbone has been President and Chief Executive Officer of The WorkPlace since 1996. During Joe’s tenure, The WorkPlace has evolved into a nationally recognized leader in creating innovative workforce programs. The WorkPlace’s entrepreneurial approach to workforce development has expanded the agency’s capacity to assist underserved populations, including workers with disabilities, at risk youth and veterans. Most recently, The WorkPlace launched Platform to Employment to assist the long-term unemployed return to work. The program’s success has been covered by national media, including “60 Minutes” and replicated in more than a dozen cities across the country.
The WorkPlace functions as a think-tank for workforce solutions. Joe often initiates projects that address developing issues, such as the plight of long-term unemployed before they receive national attention. He is a seasoned administrator with private sector experience, having managed government relations for Textron and the Allied Signal Corporations. As a leader, Joe’s style emphasizes entrepreneurship, inclusion, cooperation, and accountability.
About the Inclusive Cities Series
Citi Community Development collaborates with America’s most prominent local public officials, civil rights leaders and community organizations to expand financial access and build more inclusive cities. Through these innovative collaborations, we harness Citi’s expertise, products, services and investments to ensure all residents and families have access to opportunity. Inclusive Cities is a new guest blog series where Citi’s leading community partners bring to life, through stories of leadership and ingenuity, how their partnership with Citi is driving real urban progress in communities around the U.S.