Viewing WelfareToWork Initiative

    GRAND RAPIDS — A Delta Strategy meeting on Thursday will examine ways for employers to retain and support workers.

    The work session, set for 7:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. at Western Michigan University’s downtown Grand Rapids campus, will feature addresses by Fred Keller, Jeff Padnos and Penny Pestle. Workshops also will be offered throughout the morning, and after lunch keynote speaker Rodney Carroll, president of Welfare to Work Partnership, will address the group.

    Carroll was the former operations division manager for United Parcel Service (UPS) until recently being named the CEO and president of the Welfare to Work Partnership, where he manages the day-to-day operations of the organization while sharing his experience in private sector welfare to work programs with businesses nationwide.

    The Welfare to Work Partnership is a national, nonprofit organization created to encourage companies to hire and retain former welfare recipients. Founded in 1997, the partnership has grown to include nearly 21,000 companies that have hired an estimated 1.1 million people from welfare to work.

    Locally the mission of the program aligns with the mission of the Delta Strategy’s reducing poverty initiative. The Delta Strategy’s initiative is similar in that it is a set of demonstration projects exploring how all sectors in the community can more effectively coordinate to support people moving from poverty to self sufficiency.

    “What we have recognized is that the business community and the employer community are a vital part of this, and when partnerships are developed between businesses and nonprofit organizations and government organizations — and they each do what they do best — that we can put together some support networks for entry level and low wage workers that really have a significant impact both on the corporation and on the individual,” said Pestle, director of the Delta Strategy.

    And that is exactly what Carroll will be addressing for his West Michigan audience.

    “I think initially people in the businesses across the world saw this as something that was charitable, philanthropic and socially responsible, but I don’t think that until the last few years people saw it could be a smart business move,” said Carroll. “In the mid ’90s it was mainly assumed that these people would go to work for a few days and then leave and not come back.”

    Carroll encourages businesses to work with community-based and faith-based organizations.

    He told the Business Journal that a lot of what businesses are looking for is someone who is ready to come to work, has a good attitude and whose self-esteem is at a level where they can do the job, despite personal challenges.

    “In many cases a faith-based initiative may be able to deal with that and could be something the business would prefer not to deal with,” said Carroll. “So the result is a partnership and the end result is, then, each part wins.”

    Businesses benefit from the standpoint that with these partnerships created, the turnover rate is reduced. Carroll added that there are often several reasons why people leave a job.

    “If I am a business and I have a relationship with a community organization or a faith-based organization, I know that they are also working to help my employee come to work and be productive at work. And that turns out to be something that is good for my business,” said Carroll. “It works out for me, at no cost for me, and they are also concerned about my employee.”

    Both Pestle and Carroll stressed that this is a business decision — and one that needs to be viewed differently than it has in the past.

    “In the late ’80s, early ’90s, one of the problems with this initiative was that organizations were asking businesses to lower their standards and asking if someone was a slower reader to just let them read slower,” said Carroll. “Today, we are not doing that. We are forming partnerships that will get those employees up to speed so that businesses can simply go on with business as usual.”

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