Employment Strategy | Deaconess Foundation
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Employment Strategy

Where we started

Employment Entry


Deaconess Foundation launched its employment mission in 2014 and was guided by a Learning Plan that helped the foundation focus on specific areas within the broad employment space – job preparation, barrier removal, and longer-term supports. Each of these areas positioned DF to leverage its established relationships with and understanding of the human services sector.  This led to a concentration of DF’s funding in efforts that focused on entry into the workforce, rather than advancement within it. We have begun to call these “employment entry programs.” These programs are client-driven  and typically include services such as barrier removal, soft skills training, job search assistance, job placement into an entry level job, and minimal job retention support.  “Success” is placement into an entry level job. They are are directed and implemented by people with great sensitivity towards their clients myriad needs, and can be easily accessed by clients living in poverty. They are supported by public funding sources that emphasize immediate placements, and can be quite successful in moving clients quickly into jobs.


As DF reflected on its first few years of employment grantmaking, we took note of the following learnings about employment entry work:



LEARNING 1: Employment entry programs do not necessarily help people affect the positive changes in their lives that DF envisions because they do not address labor market realities as we understand them.


LEARNING 2: Employment entry programs are insufficiently integrated with the training, education and public workforce systems.


LEARNING 3: Employment entry programs struggle to develop strong relationships with employers.


LEARNING 4: Employment entry programs and system change efforts look very different in terms of impact.


LEARNING 5: Alternatives to employment entry programs hold great promise.



As our learning evolved, it became clear that we could increase our impact by explicitly stating our recognition that employment entry programs are necessary but not sufficient, and that the real potential for change exists as individuals move beyond entry level work.  We concluded that a Career Pathways approach, supporting individuals along an established, progressive route to stable employment offering family-sustaining wages, is necessary to achieve the promise of our mission, vision, and values.





In the fall of 2016, we adopted Career Pathways as our strategic framework.  Career Pathways is an employer-driven approach, grounded in timely and accurate labor market data, and supports individuals along an established, progressive route to stable employment offering family sustaining wages.  Key services under a career pathways approach are career navigation assistance, work experience, employer supports and credential training/education. A Career Pathways approach requires a longer timeframe than an employment entry approach because “success” is the attainment of family sustaining wage, which is not always a direct, linear path, and can take years to unfold.




We have been influenced in our understanding of Career Pathways by WorkAdvance, a national five-year workforce development demonstration conducted in New York, Tulsa, Oklahoma, and Northeast Ohio. Locally, the demonstration was coordinated by Towards Employment. WorkAdvance tested whether a comprehensive provision of services, focusing on targeted sectors and emphasizing advancement, could lead to better outcomes for individuals and employers. The results of the randomized, controlled study were strong: Program participants were more likely to receive services, be employed in a targeted, in-demand sector, and earn more than the control group participants. Detailed information about the WorkAdvance study that so influenced our thinking can be found in Redefining Workforce Development in Northeast Ohio: How National WorkAdvance Demonstration Made Local Impact.


We understand that Career Pathways exist within the broader ecosystem of employment, in which human service organizations, education and training providers, the public workforce system, and employers and their intermediaries all play critical roles. It is unlikely that any one organization would offer the full array of career pathway services on its own. The promise of well-articulated pathways and efforts to help individuals progress along them will be achieved through connections between these disparate players. Ultimately, DF’s agenda is a systems change one: We envision a community in which employers’ and job seekers’ needs are met through a comprehensive, coordinated set of services designed to facilitate entry into and along career pathways.