Recent years have seen a new consensus emerge around welfare reforms. As a result a number of promising programs and practices have been adopted in various jurisdictions which have shifted policy design and delivery beyond work-first. Instead of a simplistic focus upon the “shortest route to employmentâ€, the new emphasis has recognized that large numbers have been left behind by such strategies and is focusing instead on identifying and meeting needs and supporting sustainable transitions into work. This report highlights a number of these “next stepsâ€ in welfare reform which reflect the types of services and supports necessary to move clients away from unemployment and poverty.
Clearly, cross-jurisdictional differences mean that reform will look and feel somewhat different from place to place. In addition, there is no readily-transferable, “off the shelfâ€ policy tool box for Ontario Works. Nevertheless, as the rhetoric of “new agendasâ€ is translated into concrete practices elsewhere, a combination of local knowledge and rigorous research suggest that the new structures of reform are being designed around a number of key building blocks which include:
- Increased outreach and targeting services to reach the most disadvantaged in the labour market and provide the most appropriate services;
- Improved screening and assessment tools to better identify participants’ training and service needs and to ensure good job matches;
- Ongoing and strengths-based case management that goes beyond tracking to help participants set realistic goals, with manageable steps to achieve those goals;
- A continuum of pre- and post-employment supports to meet the multiple and complex needs of recipients and leavers;
- A “dual focusâ€ on both clients and employers, with the goal to develop long term relationships with employers which include input into program design;
- Demand-led strategies in the form of industry-specific and sectoral projects that provide strong connections to employers and improved career advancement prospects; and
- Local flexibility, within the context of overarching standards and sufficient funding, to support the local “buy-inâ€ necessary for developing local solutions.