Long-term recipients of social assistance are re-entering the workforce, and staying employed.
October 29th, 2018, Sault Ste. Marie – For over 25 years, the Sault Community Career Centre has helped individuals from diverse backgrounds and circumstances in the Algoma district find work in the local labour market. However, despite their successes, the Sault Community Career Centre realized that they consistently struggled to help “chronically unemployed” individuals, many of who were on long-term social assistance:
“We were helping people become educated, take training, and obtain employment [but] many were just not successful for any length of time,” said Karol Rains, Executive Director of the Sault Community Career Centre. “Within 3 to 6-months, they were back for further assistance. I realized that we were not addressing the real reason for their inability to stay employed.”
The Career Centre looked for answers, and in 2014, in cooperation with Ontario Works SSM, they launched the New Outlook on Working (N.O.W.) program. The results confirm, after three years of running the program in Sault Ste. Marie, the N.O.W. program succeeded in getting Ontario Works clients who had all been receiving social assistance for a number of years, working again.
What is the N.O.W. Program?
The N.O.W.: Moving Towards Employment (N.O.W.) program is a group-based intervention that uses a different approach in dealing with individuals on social assistance. Rather than offering encouragement or preparation for a ‘job search,’ the N.O.W. program targets an individual’s personal commitment to change.
By instilling the “insight” required by individuals to move their lives in new directions, program participants become willing, ready, and able to tackle the core issues in their lives preventing them from working.
The N.O.W. program is uniquely built around the idea that individuals cannot make meaningful changes in their lives until they first recognize the need to change from their own perspective. Individuals must decide why and how work is important to them before they can make a personal commitment to change. That change begins in the N.O.W. program.
Another unique feature of the program is the way it is structured; it begins with 3 to 4-hour sessions and increases to full-day sessions, mirroring the work day. Individuals then participate in a series of job trials to establish the self-discipline and self-organization required to stay employed. One-on-one reflection sessions with an employment consultant help clients solidify the changes they make to their thinking and behaviour in the workplace.
A recent external evaluation of the program conducted by PNA Change Consultants Inc. (2018)  showed that of the 143 individuals referred by Ontario Works to the program in Sault Ste. Marie between October 2014 and July 2017, 130 (90.9%) successfully completed the program. Of this group, 78 individuals (60%) gained employment. The majority (70%) of these 78 individuals who gained employment were employed within 90 days of completing their program – and 77% were still employed 330 days later!
On average, the participants were employed within 70 days of completing the program at a wage of $11.39 per hour; this was before the January 1, 2018 minimum wage increase. The 130 individuals who completed the program had an average age of 43.44 years and had been on social assistance (OW) for an average of 61.58 months or 5.1 years.
Aside from those who went to work, 4.6% of the participants returned to school, and 16.2% continued to work with employment consultants at the Sault Community Career Centre to find employment. Unfortunately, 14.6% remained unemployed due to chronic illness or injury, while 4.6% were no longer interested in job searching.
The most significant and important finding, however, is that participants who had been the most resistant and unwilling to work while on social assistance achieved success through the N.O.W. program. Individuals who had been on Ontario Works for up to 5 years were employed within 90 days of completing the program.
Also significant, these findings are not unique to Sault Ste. Marie. The program has had similar results in Chatham-Kent, London, and St. Thomas-Elgin in Ontario. Across all three municipalities, the program was successful in getting 63% of the participants employed within 90 days. More importantly, it continued to do so with individuals who had been on Ontario Works for an average of 64.5 months (5.3 years).
The Sault Community Career Centre continues to deliver the N.O.W. program with the support of Ontario Works SSM, to help recipients of social assistance get back to work. The next goal for the two organizations is to move individuals into the program earlier, rather than referring them to the program after they have spent several years on social assistance.
Knowing that, through the N.O.W. program, change is possible for even the toughest cases, we should be moving more people in this direction, since it gets us closer to the goal of an Ontario that works.
(1)This evaluation report by Fabiano & Bickle 2018 is a follow-up to the article that appeared in Municipal World, December 2016.