Do Program Activities and Environment Help Participants Experience the Culture and Expectations of the Workplace?

For workforce programs to have successful job placement and retention outcomes, it is not enough that program staff understand the skills and abilities that businesses need in their employees. Effective programs must also find multiple ways to help their participants understand those expectations and show that they can meet them. These strategies better ensure that participants will have the necessary skills when they enter the job market, and they also help participants develop the self-confidence necessary to succeed in interviews and to feel more comfortable in new employment.

Monitor and Assess How Well Your Program Mirrors the Workplace

It is useful for program staff (instructors, case managers, managers) to take stock on how well these elements are incorporated into the program:

  • The physical environment of a workplace, which can include how program spaces are designed and how close they are to other businesses, whether typical industry equipment is being used, and whether it is safe and clean.  Participants should also have several opportunities to visit potential work sites to observe the work and environment. 
  • General “employee” expectations, through clear and consistently enforced program policies around attendance, punctuality, language, dress and other common workplace norms.
  • Skills standards and typical tasks used in the workplace, including experiences of taking technical skills assessments used in various industries as well as participation in real-world projects or typical scenarios that require problem-solving and teamwork skills.  
  • Connections with other professionals—including business volunteers and former graduates as well as program staff—who can be role models, provide ongoing encouragement to participants and help them understand the “hidden rules” of the workplace.
  • Opportunities to take on the “employer” perspective, such as having participants take leadership roles in work projects, organize program events and experience performance evaluations and self-assessments

In implementing these strategies, getting regular input from advisory boards and other business contacts will help you determine which aspects of workplace culture and standards are most important to support participants’ success on the job.

Identify Strengths and Improvement Needs as a Program

It is important for workforce program staff to make time on a regular basis (e.g., when reflecting on a past program cycle or year) to assess how well the program is simulating the expectations and environment of a workplace. Staff can use a tool such as the one included here (Self-Assessment: Our “Culture of Work” Environment) to catalyze discussion about what is working well and where more focus is needed.

Surveys / Assessments


Resources Cited

Houghton, T., and Proscio, T. (2001). Hard Work on Soft Skills: Creating a “Culture of Work” in Workforce Development. Philadelphia, PA: Public/Private Ventures.

Brown, A. (1997). Work First: How to Implement an Employment-Focused Approach to Welfare Reform. New York: MDRC.

John J. Heldrich Center for Workforce Development. (2007). An Evaluation of the Newark/Essex Construction Careers Consortium Pre-Apprenticeship Training Program. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University.

Martin, N., and Halperin, S. (2006). Whatever It Takes: How Twelve Communities Are Reconnecting Out-of-School Youth. Washington, DC: American Youth Policy Forum. 

The Board of Directors. (1980). Summary and Findings of the National Supported Work Demonstration. New York: MDRC.