Insights and Perspectives

Insights and Perspectives


Read the latest from Geographic Solutions.


Part of an ongoing series called #WkdevWednesdays, each week, we’ll post guest articles authored by internal subject matter experts at Geographic Solutions and leaders throughout workforce development and case management-related fields.

This week, our guest blog has been contributed by Larry Robbin, Executive Director of Robbin and Associates. Robbin has worked with over 1,000 workforce organizations, trained more than 100,000 people, and is widely regarded as a leader in developing strategies to improve employment outcomes of the hard-to-employ

By Larry Robbin

For the purposes of this article, the hard-to-employ are defined as individuals that have little or no interest in going to work. They can be found in the ranks of people that are on some form of government subsidy, the recently incarcerated, at-risk youth, the long term unemployed, and many other populations. While they have many assets and strengths, becoming employed is not one of them. 

However, there are four strategies that your workforce program can use to improve their motivation.

Start a Role-Model-Driven Program: One of the most effective strategies is to make your workforce program a role model and not information driven. Information about work is of little interest to the hard-to-employ. What does get their attention is learning about people who were once just like them, but are now working. They are curious about the lives of these individuals. Formerly hard-to-employ people from your program that are now working are your most powerful allies in helping to increase employment motivation in your current program participants. There are a variety ways to use the power of these role models.

  • Your working program alumni that were once hard-to-employ can come back to the program on their day or shift off to talk with your current participants. Working alumni that cannot come in can call in on their lunch hour. You can put them on a speakerphone to talk with people in a Job Club or Job Search Workshop.
  • You can conduct video interviews with your working alumni. They can talk about the struggle to change their anti-work thinking and the benefits of going to work. Show these videos in your orientation, group and individual sessions. Engage people watching the videos in a dialog about the connections between the lives of the alumni and their lives.

Create an Alumni Hall-of-Fame: Decorate your entrance hallway and lobby with pictures of formerly hard-to-employ people that are now working. Put up brief biographies in the appropriate language below each picture. Take your program participants on a tour of this gallery and talk about what influenced these working heroes to reinvent their lives. Make sure you have signed releases of information before you discuss this information.

  • Put up a mini Hall-of-Fame of pictures in your cubicle of people you have helped, and refer to these people as you do your employment counseling. This will give your clients proof that people just like them went to work, and that it has changed their lives for the better.
  • With management approval, pair up your current program participants with working alumni that share similar history and demographics for informational interviews.

Rely on Mentorship for Encouragement: One of the most powerful strategies is to develop a mentoring program that pairs up the formerly hard-to-employ with people that are currently in your program.

  • Instead of lecturing people about working, tell moving and powerful stories of people that were once hard-to-employ and their struggles to find their pathway to employment. This strategy will work for all your clients, but it will be especially powerful for people that come from cultures where information is passed on by storytelling instead of written documents.
  • One common characteristic of this population is their low vocational self-efficacy. Vocational self-efficacy is a term I developed to explain the cynicism people have that leads them to believe that no one would hire them, and that they have no place in the world of work. This negative self-talk is one of the factors that contributes to their anti-work attitudes. It is very important to prove to them that people coming from similar circumstances that have done some work on their barriers to employment are in fact being hired.

Recognize their Achievements: Design a ritual of celebration that occurs when people get job offers and takes place before they start work.

  • The ritual should be festive, noisy, and commemorative. It should get across the message that people are being hired. In one program, they gather all the people that have job offers but have not started work in their lobby and ring bells, throw confetti, eat cake, and sing songs.
  • People get a certificate signed by a local elected official, gift cards donated by local businesses, and congratulation cards signed by staff. They talk about their journey to employment. They often invite family and friends. Hard-to-employ people that are not working are invited to participate in this important event. Seeing people like themselves get jobs can have a profound impact on raising their vocational self-efficacy, which can lead to increased employment motivation.

One reason the hard-to-employ have these attitudes is a lack of positive vocational role models in their lives. They often live in communities with high levels of unemployment, and they have been cut off from the labor market. They lack the social capital that many people use to get jobs. They also face other barriers to employment. Substance abuse, mental health issues, disabilities, and a lack of good schools can all contribute to their situation.

If workforce programs use the power of role models that have pioneered out of these circumstances as inspiring teachers and guides, a great deal of vocational progress will take place and the hard-to-employ can go to work!

Larry Robbin, Executive Director of Robbin and Associates, has over 45 years of experience in workforce development. He has worked with over 1,000 workforce organizations and trained more than 100,000 people. He is widely regarded as an expert on strategies to improve employment outcomes of the hard-to-employ. Over 60 of his articles and interviews appear in workforce publications. For more information about his work and to get handouts and resources that you can use with your job seekers, go to or email him at

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