Did you know that the employment rates in many of Connecticut’s industries are higher now than they were before the start of the Covid-19 pandemic? According to Patrick Flaherty, Director of the Office of Research at the Connecticut Department of Labor, job growth has been consistent in 2022 and the unemployment rate is down to its early 2019 level. This upswing in job growth can be partly attributed to the state’s Jobs First Employment Services Program, or JFES. Each year since 2018, thousands of participants are referred to American Job Centers in cities throughout the region. The JFES program’s goal is to provide employment services to families receiving Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) and help parents gain skills to obtain employment. The program gauges success on several elements, including: Freedom from cash assistance within the 21-month program time limit Continuous employment and independent from assistance Increase in basic and occupational skills, job coaching, and work experience To be eligible for JFES, an individual must be receiving Temporary Family Assistance (TFA). Weekly participation of approximately 20 hours of employment activities is required for any person with children under the age of six, while persons with children over the age of six must participate in 30 hours. Thanks to added flexibility in participation requirements, if participants perform at least 50% of their required hours, their TFA benefits will not be taken away. CTDOL partners with the Connecticut Council of Family Service Agencies (CCFSA) to aid JFES clients who struggle meeting their participation requirements through intervention and removal services. “The CTDOL partners with other state agencies and community partners to deliver the JFES program,” said Acting Director of WIOA Administration, Erica Tew during a recent Pathways to Employment webinar. “The Connecticut Department of Social Services (CTDSS) is the agency that administers the benefits, and [partners with] the five workforce development boards that oversee the Employment and Training and case management programs.” Operating in Covid Times During the pandemic, the program was suspended, but virtual services were offered to customers. According to Tew, “on average, nearly half of our caseload continued to participate during this time.” In July 2021, the program was reopened and CTDSS referrals were accepted again, but with dramatic changes to the foundational rules of the program. “We have made many changes to the JFES program over the course of the past 13 months to make it easier for clients to participate,” said JFES Unit Director, Mike Bartley. “About 33% of JFES participants performed work and have overcome significant barriers to employment. How Do Participants Arrive at the JFES program? The CTDOL partners with state agencies and communities to deliver the JFES program. Unlike other workforce programs, participants can’t join the program simply by walking into an American Job Center. Those taking part in the program must be referred by a state agency and receiving TFA. “It’s similar to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program Employment and Training where persons receiving a particular benefit have to participate in some type of employment and training activity for a certain number of hours per week,” said Tew. The most common referral path happens when a participant applies for benefits through the DSS. Case managers assess each applicant and refer them to their region’s JFES program orientation. Program Innovations Over the last few years, the JFES program has relied on several innovations to succeed. Family Centered Coaching : This is an approach that helps case managers engage with the whole family, rather than just the individual participants. It takes into account that one approach does not fit all families, considering that families may address challenges in different ways. It helps to create customized solutions for each family. Financial Literacy : The second innovation was established with the Connecticut Association for human services, or CAHS, which provides financial literacy education classes. These sessions are provided to the public by a network of volunteers who have worked in the financial services industry. And these workshops denote the first introduction to the concept of saving and budgeting for many clients. Refugee Resettlement : In addition, a pilot program was launched that partners with Workforce Alliance and the Refugee Resettlement Agency. JFES case managers are embedded within families to address some of the historical issues that refugees have had in connecting to our jobs first program. Originally, multiple organizations helped the refugee and there tended to be miscommunication between them all. Placing a JFES case manager at the refugee resettlement agency has helped to cut out miscommunication and make the clients feel safe and comfortable while trying to transition into getting employment support and services. Inspiring success stories Geographic Solutions supports the efforts of the Connecticut Department of Labor as they provide employment services to people. Their work encourages skills gain in the name of employment, lays the groundwork financial independence. See inspirational JFES success stories by clicking here .