The Career Support Network refocuses traditional workforce programs from an employment-first perspective to one that acknowledges the association between successful careers and mental/physical health of the employed, including ongoing assessment and treatment. The needs around these issues and their relationship to successful careers can be easily identified. However, beneath the surface are safety net programs that intersect, but rarely work together or even know the others exist in the participant’s continuum of services. CSN tackles the problems that would otherwise lead to job loss while simultaneously convening all of the subsurface service entities. This allows for an informed understanding of the roles, services and expectations of each while identifying realistic ways to change systems. Through CSN, the participant has a path toward becoming a valued employee via seamless service delivery collaboration and beneficial system changes, creating and informing the path of behavioral and physical health as it supports the worker.
Workforce programming only gives a cursory nod to the impact of behavioral health in career success, especially for those who come from traditionally poor backgrounds and/or are being released from incarceration. The traditional work-first model leaves little room for the diagnosis or treatment of physical, much less behavioral health issues. The Career Support Network changes this paradigm. Emphasis is placed on a tandem approach to the physical and mental health of the program participant (and their families) both pre- and post- employment through assessment, professional and peer counseling and the creation of community. By bringing all of the players to the same table, the CSN team (peer counselor, job readiness staff, Occupational Therapist and medical team) family members, employees, prison officials, court officials all become a part of a solution, for the participant and, in ways that facilitate long overdue system changes.
CSN, through the help of funders such as The Scattergood Foundation, plays a role as a convener of partners. Early in this project, the evidence of systemic silos and independent, autonomous systems that rarely communicate yet consistently touch the same individuals threatened to undermine the ability of the program to be successful in its holistic focus. One small advance could turn into a massive reversal of fortune simply because similar public support systems work independently of each other. CSN has learned to convene the partners, facilitate the conversations and inform the deconstruction of these systemic silos and create new, clearer defined paths toward self-sufficiency, career success and physically and mentally healthy individuals and families.
CSN is a research project that touches on several areas of support, focused on a small, select group of participants that include building-trades students, ex-offenders and workforce program participants. Survival of this project rests in the ability of this partnership to embed these services into the formal workforce system through a model of core services packaged to be a part of a larger workforce training and placement system. As the Philadelphia area reorganizes its workforce system the likelihood of CSN becoming a partner in an improved system increases exponentially. Equally, as employers see the success of this model, employees will contract parts of this project and use them to create more holistic employee assistance programs that bring the resources together to meet a smorgasbord of needs, mental and physical, increasing Philadelphia’s place as a groundbreaker in systemic changes that increase the overall mental health of its most vulnerable citizens.
The CSN team has already met with interested parties in the workforce and healthcare system in Detroit to discuss how this program can be replicated there. Replication must go hand in hand with customization. CSN is working with its partners to create a model of core services that could be tailored to fit most any situation. Through the creation of service flow charts, process development and comparisons of services, CSN is able to work with new partners (as demonstrated by the variety of partners in the research project: Orleans Technical Institute, The Green Job Readiness Program, Roots to Reentry, the Philadelphia Prison System, Jefferson University & Hospital, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, Mt. Sinai Hospital) to create customized versions of the CSN model. This ensures that services are not duplicated, schedules are aligned and resources shared.
Because of the success of the Career Support Network as a research model, an unprecedented partnership has developed with the Finishing Trades Institute of the Mid-Atlantic Region (FTI). The pre-apprenticeship program of FTI now includes components of CSN as well as the FNC contextualized academics training model. This happened because of FTI’s experience with previous CSN participants. After noting the higher success rate of those CSN-supported participants, FTI initiated the partnership – the only pre-apprenticeship program endorsed by the President of the Philadelphia AFL-CIO and the Business Manager of the Philadelphia Building and Construction Trades Council. The success of the CSN model in creating job-ready candidates for the trades led to this endorsement which places the FTI/FNC partnership as the only trade-approved pre-apprentice program for introducing minorities and women into the trades in the Philadelphia region. Scattergood’s support would provide needed bridge funds toward long-term sustainability.