Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Implementing the Removal of The FORCE to Work

The implementation of improved job training, improved parameters around education levels, and the removal of the “force” that Workfare participants is a complex undertaking. Working from an anti-oppressive lens, it is evident that addressing these areas is crucial. By failing to prepare workers to handle the situations that they will come up with in their day-to-day work, failing to provide them with transferable skills, and ignoring their educational assets and areas that need development, Workfare creates a mentality in workers that they are being forced against their will to work. This development of a feeling of force itself produces unmotivated and resentful employees, regardless of their strengths and talents. This leads to poor quality of work, low worker morale, poor employer-employee relationships, and high “drop-out” rates among participants. By implementing an alternative policy response that values individuals’ opinions, thoughts, feelings, differences, talents, and uniqueness among many other things, we believe that the feeling of force would be eliminated. Our proposed policy would require that both participants and those implementing the program would be in agreement and collaboration regarding how the program would best benefit each worker. Actively involving workers in their own work experience would instil in participants a sense of belonging and self-worth because they would understand that their opinion really does matter. By feeling important in the process, workers would no longer feel forced to work but would rather be optimistic because they would recognize that they really would have a lot to gain from participation, now and in the future.

Now the question turns to, how would we put this plan into action? Firstly, surveys would be distributed to all social assistance recipients 18 years of age and over. These surveys would extract information regarding the interest that this population initially would express about these innovative additions to a basic Workfare model. Examples of questions that could be included in these surveys may sound something like: “Do you currently feel motivated to work?”, “What would some incentives to work be for your specific case?”, “If you were actively involved in the securing of your own current and future well-being through your workplace, how would you feel about working?”, and things of that nature. These questions would aim to get to the root feelings of those on social assistance in order to begin to understand how the system would need to be altered to accommodate their interests and circumstances. Through the answers acquired from the surveys, we would be able to share with employers the things that this population expressed as important and what would need to be offered for them in order to keep them motivated and able to maintain their jobs. Employers would then be more educated as to what social assistance recipients’ voices are saying and what their needs are, so that they would be able to apply this new knowledge to their workplaces and help their employees grow and develop in their work settings.

A second part of the implementation plan would involve assessing education levels of each and every worker prior to placing them in a workplace. Sources have documented that in some instances in a Workfare model, workers were not always assessed educationally. Their proficiency in English and/or other languages was not evaluated, nor were their basic math skills or literacy levels. As mentioned in an earlier post, without assessing both assets and areas that need development, workers cannot be placed in jobs and be expected that things will work out. A job may be too challenging or too easy, depending on the job and the individual’s own strengths. A job may also require verbal communication in a language that the worker is not proficient in. Similarly, other talents or skills may be required that the worker simply does not possess. Education levels must be evaluated in order to ensure that each individual worker is placed in a job that they can be successful at and perhaps even enjoy. Also, areas for improvement need to be identified before placing individuals in work situations. We propose that at the very least, a high school education be necessary for placing workers in placements. Ideally, a variety of jobs would be available that may require differing levels of education (i.e. post-secondary university- or college-level) so that individuals who possess high levels of education can benefit from this and use their skills in an effective and worthwhile manner; individuals with lower levels would be able to find suitable placements as well. Without a high school education, it is difficult to find a job that will pay an individual enough to stay above the poverty line and prosper. Therefore, by implementing the requirement of at least a high school level of education we are ensuring that at the very least, jobs will be able to minimally support their employees. It is recommended that workers seek higher education if possible, and we propose that at least some workplaces in which participants of the program are placed would assist in supporting these individuals financially. This would involve loans that could be paid back in instalments, including taking a small portion of each pay cheque to put towards the full amount.

After surveying social assistance recipients prior to work placements, and after adequately assessing (and, if necessary, developing) education levels, improving job training by providing high quality collaborative training would take place via the incorporation of the employers’ education surrounding social assistance recipients’ needs into the workplace. Not only would proper and thorough orientations takes place so that each employee would feel comfortable in his or her surroundings and feel comfortable with the job(s) that are to be carried out, but discussions would be regularly held which would continually appraise both employers’ and employees’ satisfaction levels. These discussion would be on-going throughout the employment placement so that the changing needs of all individuals involved would be at the forefront and that all could work together to create the best quality of work and the best opportunities. Job training that ensures employee comfort with the task at hand would be attended to in the beginning, which would be followed by providing each worker with the kind of transferable skills that would benefit them in the future. These skills include things such as time management skills, punctuality, professional attitude and appearance, how to write a proper resume and cover letter, reliability, accountability, and cooperation skills. The thing to remember is that in our alternative policy response, it is not in anyone’s interest to try to trap workers in their menial jobs. Although a job is a job in the beginning, no one is deserving of being trapped in these sorts of jobs for the entirety of their working lives. What’s important to focus on is the growth of individuals so that they will be able to acquire and keep good jobs that will enable them to not only escape the dependency on social assistance but also to stay above the poverty line and experience satisfaction with their lives. By providing good quality job training and consistent discussions surrounding maximizing job satisfaction for all involved parties, our policy would prepare individuals well for the future and for encounters in the “real world”.

Getting the government involved in our proposed policy response is critical to ensure the best chance that the program will run successfully. We would identify Members of Parliament that sit on committees related to issues surrounding our policy and would provide the Member(s) of Parliament with the information they need regarding our policy. Working with an MP could create a powerful ally for us and our policy initiative. It would also be important for us to monitor the committee’s activities, as well as getting involved ourselves in things like town meetings or events sponsored by our MP. We would also seek to create a relationship with a public servant so that our issue could be spread throughout government staff and we would have someone available to let us know who we should speak with regarding getting our policy approved and running. This being said, we would also recognize that regular government communication would be required to be maintained—not just while we’re trying to get our policy put into place, but in general. We would want to show an interest in government issues as a whole, not simply when we want to put our own policy into place. You never know when good relationships with government workers may come in handy, either for ourselves, for them, or both. A policy brief would be created and distributed to various government officials with the help of our MP and public servant allies with the intention of sparking interest in our policy. Copies of this policy brief would also be distributed to participants in the program upon survey completion discussed above as a part of the implementation plan. Again, involving those that the policy directly effects is essential for our program.

A lot has been covered in this posting, so let’s conclude with a short summary to refresh our memories of the key points in the implementation of better job training, educational assessment, and the removal of force. Basically, through the implementation of higher quality job training and ensuring proper assessment of education levels of each worker, the removal of the feeling of being “forced to work” is hypothesized to occur. A lot of workers who feel forced into jobs in order to receive social assistance are not effective workers and are not happy individuals. We propose to involve workers in their workplaces so that they can take their satisfaction into their own hands. This means collaborating directly with each other and employers in order to ensure that their needs are being heard and met. It also means being provided with sufficient job training to perform their current job well, as well as being provided with the skills to climb up the job ladder and hopefully receive more rewarding and meaningful work in the future. By ensuring an adequate level of education and encouraging higher education, we believe that better and more satisfying jobs will be available to workers in our alternative policy. It is part of our goal to provide workers with the tools they need to be able to become self-sufficient and independent, and by taking measures to remove force and encourage motivation, we theorize that individuals will be more partial to the idea of securing their futures and the futures of their families.

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