Part 2 - How to Integrate. 

Written by Jared Marling, Assistant Director of Capacity Building |The Financial Clinic.  The following blog is the second of a five-part series co-written by Corporation for a Skilled Workforce and The Financial Clinic.

The concept of integrating financial security strategies into a workforce development program sounds like a great idea, right? There are benefits that staff and participants alike can seize, and this is clear even at a quick glance. But when the rubber meets the road and it comes time to integrate these strategies, the theory may appear less attractive and more like a hassle.

Lots of questions may surface at this point: When can we find the time for this work? How can our team build the needed expertise? What can we say to participants to help them see the value of taking on these strategies? These questions often spiral into seemingly insurmountable barriers that hinder successful integration after it has already begun.

While these are valid questions and concerns, they all stem from one myth that is often assumed to be true: there is only one right way to effectively integrate financial security services into workforce development programs.  

There is actually a wide spectrum of approaches that organizations or programs can take to integrate financial security services into their workforce development programs. There are seed planting strategies, where staff members or coaches open the conversation about finances, introduce tools, or simply set expectations for future (often external) financial coaching conversations that participants will have. There are then the light-touch strategies, where staff members or coaches cultivate these seeds and encourage participants to take the first practical steps towards building their financial security. Finally, there are high-touch strategies. These are the most in-depth coaching conversations, which support participants in taking on the biggest obstacles to their financial security. While some organizations pursue strategies in just one of these categories, many pull elements from a few or all of the categories to make a plan that works for their team and their participants.

While we won’t dive into all the elements of these strategies here (check out Issue Brief #2: How Can You Do It? for more specifics), let’s highlight some examples from one organization that The Financial Clinic partnered with in 2017 and 2018, Grant Associates. Grant Associates is one of the nation’s leading workforce development organizations and the Clinic supported 16 of their programs in integrating financial security services. The approaches across the programs were very, very different. Let’s take a look!

Seed planting strategies… One Grant Associates program that serves four NYC boroughs completed a financial capability assessment with nearly 4,000 participants and set the expectations for more in-depth financial coaching conversations. Nearly 700 of these participants also set financial goals at this time -- a proven driver in future financial success. While these strategies alone go a long way to empower participants to start taking action and build their financial security, they also set the stage for fruitful conversations with other coaches that participants encountered later in the program. In fact, a large percentage of these participants have now taken advantage of the support of career and retention coaches for more in-depth services, such as pulling and reviewing credit reports or developing spending and savings plans.

A few of the other programs also incorporated these types of seed planting strategies into the very early steps of their programming by distributing interactive financial worksheets and tipsheets to participants and promoting exciting programs and products that participants could pursue. This established a solid foundation for next steps in many cases - a great strategic example of making the most of low-hanging fruit that any program could easily adopt.

Light-touch strategies… Many of the Grant Associates programs found their sweet spot in this category, and it spelled out big impacts for their participants. Here are a few specific examples and success stories to show what these strategies look like in action:

A program in Brooklyn has been doing fantastic work in integrating these strategies into their workforce development supports. Here is how one coach recounts a recent participant’s experience: “A client came to me feeling as though he would never be able to make a positive financial change. When we originally sat down, we came up with an attainable goal. We were able to break down the steps so that the overall goal was achieved with small milestones along the way. He has since checked his credit report from all three Credit Bureaus, disputed some charges and even made payments on his school loan. My client is pleased with his progress and feels as though financial security is closer than he imagined.”

As another example, a program in Maryland shared the tremendously compelling story of a young man living in a shelter after being kicked out of his home. This young man secured part-time employment through the program and is now well on his way to a full-time position. Throughout this process he participated in several light-touch financial security strategies: he reviewed and improved his credit report and score, he opened a savings account, and he has been consistently building his savings by depositing paychecks in the bank each week. He is committed to building a better life for himself and is currently in the process of finding an apartment of his own. These financial security strategies have been crucial to his success.

High-touch strategies… While it is not possible for every organization or program to take on high-touch strategies, these approaches can be a great fit for programs that have the bandwidth for more in-depth, one-on-one service. For example, a different Brooklyn-based Grant Associates program shared the story of a participant they placed on the fast track for employment. She found career success early on in the program and built on that by achieving a promotion. However, some of the biggest benefits of the program came to her through the high-touch financial coaching services. These services empowered her to reach a number or huge milestones towards financial security:

  • She successfully disputed fraudulent debt and reduced her overall debt by 66%
  • She increased her credit score by 86 points
  • She received the Earned Income Tax Credit
  • She pursued and obtained employer incentives
  • She transitioned from changing rent payment assessments

She is on her way to being debt free by early 2018 and this stems from the in-depth supports that she experienced as a part of the comprehensive workforce development program in Brooklyn!

The possibilities for how a workforce development program integrates financial security strategies are endless. The key is to understand your participants’ needs and your team’s bandwidth, and to land on the right mix of strategies. There is not just one right answer!

To learn more about this topic, see Issue Brief #2: How Can You Do It?
To read the full series, see Full Series Issue Briefs

Join the discussion on twitter, @skilledwork_org, @financialclinic #morenotextra #finsec4change #integrate

*This blog is the second in a five-part series co-written by Corporation for a Skilled Workforce and The Financial Clinic. Stay tuned for subsequent blogs in this series.

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