The following is an interview with Christina Bakewicz, Director of Business Services and Grant Management and Kathy Ziegler, Career Center Manager regarding Monroe County’s Work Experience Program (WEP). This interview covers what the work experience program is, the types of worksites in which individuals are placed, the program’s process, and the benefits to being involved in Monroe County’s Work Experience Program.
#1 What is the Work Experience Program?
The Work Experience Program (WEP) is an initiative through the county of Monroe for people on public assistance. Individuals on public assistance are required to do some type of work in order to continue receiving their benefits and keep their case open. WEP gives these individuals work experience because some of them have not worked in a long time so they find it difficult to obtain traditional employment. It also gives nonprofit organizations a chance to get some work done at no monetary cost to the employer. The approach that we’re trying to take at RochesterWorks! is instead of putting these individuals in an unpaid placement and keeping them there for a year, we are actually trying to get them into paid employment which would then in turn help them become self-sufficient. In order to do that we are looking at the experience that they have and how they’re doing at their site; if they are doing a good job we are working to find a paid position for them. Our goal is to get these individuals off of social services and put them into the actual work world. Each case is individual and some people are exempt from this program due to medical or other reasons, but most people on public assistance would go through this program. Monroe County has over 800 residents currently enrolled in the Work Experience Program.
#2 What types of sites are these individuals placed in?
There are a variety of sites, Unity Health System is a big supporter of the WEP program and exposes interns to a variety of tasks Including food service, patient care, clerical work, environmental services, and more. Volunteers of America is another site and it provides experience in retail, warehousing, and more. There are clerical positions throughout the county as well. We even have a placement at Geva Theater, as well as many of churches. The hospitals are very popular and daycare is another sought after location. Generally we don’t want people at a site longer than six months; realistically we would like to start having them maybe after three months move into a permanent or full-time position. Obviously there are people that might take a little bit longer to place and naturally some of them get where they’re comfortable in their site, but we strive to provide job search assistance to everyone who requires it.
#3 What does the process look like?
Individuals receiving public assistance are referred to RochesterWorks! and come in for an orientation. They’ll sit down in a group setting; they’ll hear what the expectations are, how the program works, after that they’ll actually hear from the Placement Team about what they can expect in the future. They talk about their resume and meet with an individual career advisor and talk about what they’ve done in the past, where their skills are to date and try to come up with a WEP site for them that is somewhat relevant to what they’ve done or what they’re looking to do. Then they’ll come back one more time before they’re assigned for a three hour job readiness training but instead of focusing so much on the and interview skills, it really focuses on the soft skills and problem solving. The goal is to help them be successful at their WEP assignment so they can in turn obtain a work reference to increase their chances of getting and keeping a job. At their worksite, their career advisor will check in with them, generally if they’re doing really good we’re going to try to pull them out and help them in their job search. Each business is assigned a career service advisor so they will check on the interns. We also have a Placement Team available to work with each individual. We have people actually going out looking for businesses that have open job orders so when WEP interns come in they have job orders available to them. We ask the employers to make the commitment to train that person and mentor them in any way that they can until they are successful and we can provide hiring incentives for the business to do so.
#4 What are the benefits for WEP participants and employers?
The benefits for WEP participants are not only keeping their benefits but also gaining valuable experiences that they wouldn’t get other places. These individuals gain hard and soft skills such as being on time, getting along with others and skills you can’t learn in a classroom that you really need to learn on the job. Another benefit is that this experience will also hopefully provide these individuals with good work references so when they go to fill out an application and it asks for references they actually have current people to put on there. Because we’re targeting non-profit government agencies they tend to have that natural desire to assist and give to the community and this allows them to lend assistance to the community in a very tangible way. Employers really can watch this person come in day one with whatever they may come in with and then watch them grow and blossom as a person into someone that’s job ready. Employers participating in this program are really giving back to the community in a variety of ways. Even if they can help that one person at a time, it can make a difference. We actually have some individuals completing their WEP at RochesterWorks! right now and we have noticed that within a few months that they have gained confidence that you can actually see. It feels great making a difference in a positive way.
For more information about Monroe County’s Work Experience Program, please visit: http://monroewep.org/