Our proposed alternative policy response seeks to improve job training and adequately assess (and, if necessary, develop) education levels in order to remove the feeling of force that Workfare participants feel to work. There are several pros to this proposed policy. Workers’ opinions are heard and valued in this alternative policy response, and this is a major advantage of our program because it empowers participants. So many Workfare participants were left feeling not only pressured or forced to work, but also powerless, helpless, unmotivated, and have even felt of little worth as individuals. Empowering workers by giving them the power to voice their opinions and having their voices heard, participants in our program would have the experience of essentially creating and participating in their own program recommendations. Of course, we hold power in the position of program develops as we are proposing the alternative policy response, but it is the participants who have the power to shape just how the program will help them. They know better than we do; they are in actual fact the “experts” in their own lives. Valuing and incorporating program participants’ opinions into the program is an effective way to get them interested in and excited about the program because they are direct contributors to it.
Continual evaluation and adaptation of the program to keep it fresh is definitely an advantage of our proposed alternative policy response. It is our intent that our policy satisfies the greatest number of people possible by allowing everyone a say in how the program is carried out. In reality, participants may hate the way the program runs, and by continually monitoring the progress and evaluating participant satisfaction, we would recognize these feelings and work to alleviate them. Just as policy makers must be willing to work with participants, participants must be willing to work with policy makers. If everyone gives a little and takes a little, it is likely to work. It is most definitely a “pro” to take part in regular program evaluation so that we can consistently work towards a successful social assistance program that works for individuals. This recognition and appreciation of individual differences is the premise of our plan because it will motivate participants in their daily lives. A large part of what causes Workfare participants to be unhappy, unmotivated, and resentful towards the system is the ignorance (by “experts” and employers) of their own unique situational issues that affect their ability to work. We have seen it. Research has shown it. If people’s differences are brushed aside and deemed insignificant, it has detrimental effects on their self-worth, and therefore their motivation in all aspects of life. We recognize that each person is different and has certain situations in their life that affect their ability to work. This is not a problem; it is what makes us human, and we wish to remove the feeling of force to work that Workfare participants experience by discussing these situations, bringing them to each other’s attention, and working with the situations to create a liveable work environment.
Although we can recognize the pros of our policy response, there are some cons or limitations to it as well. It is possible that some employers may not like the idea of having to share power with workers/participants in the program. We’ve all heard of those employers that are on a power trip. We can’t generalize this to all employers, obviously, but let’s face it—they do exist in some instances. If these individuals are required to share that power that they so covet and bask in, they may likely be resentful towards the policy. The program does not seek to take away power from employers, but it does seek to empower employees, and by evening out the playing field, employers may feel threatened that their power is being taken away. In addition, some individuals need to have structure in their lives. We are all different, and by respecting each other’s differences, we can respect that some people work and live best when their lives are rigidly structured. On the other hand, others may function best with a lack of structure. The incorporation of many different views can benefit participants by having each person’s voice heard, but it must be recognized that many (sometimes opposing) voices may result in higher rates of conflict. By integrating many perspectives the structure of the program may be compromised, and this can be unfavourable for those who require strict structure. Lastly, a limitation of our program execution is the possibility that participants will be unwilling to participate in the surveys we intend to use. The improvement of job training and the evaluation of program progress both require participant response in order to be most effective. If they are unwilling to respond, then this poses a dilemma to the program’s working. Lastly, attaining government enthusiasm and participation would likely be a lengthy and potentially frustrating process—it would be important to remind ourselves that we are in this for the long run and that it will take time and creativity to achieve our goals. Hard work will pay off.
Ways to address these cons follow. In order to deal with the potential issues of employer unwillingness to share power with employees, we would like to share with them the overall findings from the surveys that were completed in the implementation plan for improved job training and educational assessment. Participants in the program would take surveys to assess their individual needs and these surveys would be shared with employers to educate them on the program and the participants’ interests and needs. The attitude of being unwilling to share power with participants may likely stem from not understanding the premise of the program itself, and by educating employers on how the program would work, and showing them how different each individual’s needs and opinions are, they would be able to understand that power needs to be shared with participants in order to empower them and allow them to become self-motivated, quality employees. For the individuals who thrive on structure in their lives and suffer when that structure is abolished, meetings would need to discuss that this program does involve structure, but that it’s a different kind of structure. By reframing people’s concepts of what “structure” is, we could make them more open to a different kind of structure, the kind that our program would offer. It’s also important to note that once the program was running smoothly and any potential preliminary glitches were smoothed out, the program itself would, in fact, become more structured just as a result of regular practice and implementation. It would become the norm for participants and would therefore become routine. As for the reluctance to fill in surveys, we mentioned previously in the implementation plan for improved job training that policy briefs would be distributed along with surveys in order to educate and remind respondents of the benefits of the program. The benefits are focused on program participants, not the government, and therefore participants should recognize that they really can benefit from the program if they participate and provide feedback. They will be taking their lives into their own hands rather than letting someone else lead them, and this empowerment should encourage them to participate fully, so that they may reap the full benefits.
Involving participants directly in the program’s running is an innovative idea in social assistance policies because it shifts away from forcing people to work despite barriers to employment and shifts towards including people in how their job placements will run so that these employment barriers can be removed. The involvement of participants, employees, government workers, and policy makers has its pros and cons, as listed above, however we believe that the pros vastly outweigh the cons, and that empowerment of employees is what will make our proposed alternative policy response successful.