Improving Workforce Development Programs: Lessons Learned from Listening to Dads

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Publication Date
October 25, 2016

For many responsible fatherhood programs, workforce development and financial empowerment are seen as key components. For many workforce development programs, however, responsible fatherhood and parenting skill building is not as often seen as a critical program piece. To help bridge this divide, the National Responsible Fatherhood Clearinghouse (NRFC) and the Center for Urban Families (CFUF) held two listening sessions. The first with fathers engaged in responsible fatherhood and workforce development programs, and the second with representatives from workforce development agencies.

Practitioners Leadership Institute logo The first listening session, sponsored by the NRFC and hosted at CFUF, was held in April of 2016, with fathers from CFUFs’       Baltimore Responsible Fatherhood Project and Strive workforce development program regarding their experiences with     workforce development training programs.  The listening session sought to gain information on the impact of those programs on fathers’ lives and the lives of their families and children.  During the session, we received feedback on how fathers believed that workforce development programs could be improved. 

In August 2016, CFUF and CFUF’s Practitioners Leadership Institute (PLI) hosted a follow-up listening session with nine practitioners from Maryland’s local and state workforce development agencies. The purpose of this listening session was to share preliminary findings from the April listening session and to learn from the experiences of the practitioners about emerging strategies that could be replicated in other programs to support fathers seeking employment.

A variety of challenges, opportunities, and success stories emerged during these collaborative listening sessions. Three initial themes of lessons learned were:

Put People before Performance
Fathers expressed that they faced challenges attending job readiness programs and balancing parenting responsibilities. They specifically wanted job readiness skills that were applicable to parenting including preparing them for the job, life, and becoming role models for their children. Additionally, fathers shared what they needed to reduce the barriers they encountered to obtaining access to economic opportunities. Dads need skills, professional certificates, criminal record expungement, returned licenses, conflict resolution and communication skills, and legal guidance.   Sharing these challenges with workforce development practitioners demonstrates the need to see clients as men whose most pressing desire is to be the best dad.  Identifying and meeting the expressed needs of these fathers is important to maintaining an operating philosophy that “puts people before performance.”

Traditionally performance measures have driven the workforce development system. A focus on performance often suppressed an environment that put clients first. Practitioners acknowledged the need to resolve the tension between performance measures and people and adopt a model that serves the best interest of clients. Integrating supportive services that include mental health services and pre-release services are essential to the success of a people driven system.

CFUF has a successful model of programming that meet these needs that they were able to share during the listening sessions. Through the Baltimore Responsible Fatherhood Project, the needs of fathers are met by providing them opportunities to receive free expungement services and legal advice, participate in a support group with role models, and attend outings with support group members and children. The program focuses on enhancing men to fulfill their roles as fathers and to contribute to their family as wage earners.

Motivate Everyone to Self-Actualization
Fathers expressed a desire to restructure their lives so that they could be the best dad for their children. Specifically, fathers returning to their families from prison expressed a desire to reconnect with society through connecting with role models, utilizing opportunities to practice smiling and preparing their families for the new person that is coming home. Identifying and addressing these needs are significant because it encourages fathers to redefine their lives and create a purpose essential to self-actualization.  

Agencies expressed that they realized the devastating impact that systems have on marginalized groups such as low-income fathers. Practitioners are being intentional about encouraging men from their first engagement with workforce agencies. Thus, they are developing culturally relevant systems and programs that advocate for the healthy development of men and their families.

This advocacy is evidenced in programs such as Man Talk, a program facilitated by men for men. The program focuses on pre-release readiness, career planning, and family planning. This gender-specific model enhances the client success at self-actualization because it provides them the space to speak truthfully. As a result of this free environment, the confidence of men are awakened because they are encouraged to preserve and celebrate their identity to become their best self.

Moreover, practitioners highlighted the significance of partnerships with community based organizations.  They acknowledged that job training alone does not work. They must examine any influences that already exist within marginalized communities and develop ways to effectively integrate them into workforce development systems. For example, the relationship between Maryland Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation and CFUF demonstrates the potential effectiveness of such collaborations.

Utilize Multi-Generational Approaches
Fathers expressed a strong desire to improve their lives for the purposes of enhancing the quality of life for their children and family. Considering this emphasis on the family, an exploration of the integration of multi-generation approaches is worthwhile.

Multi-generational approaches to workforce development could provide support to the career and economic success of to the whole family unit. Currently, Maryland systems only recognize and process clients as individuals. Many practitioners stated that engaging a man with his partner or family members is not an official process but it is effective, even if informal, part of working with their clients. In many instances, there is a great occurrence of dual enrollment with partners, parents and children in one-stop community networks. In this listening session, practitioners explored the prospect of changing system delivery to address the inherent connectedness of families in workforce development programming.

Collaboration and a commitment to working together for the well-being and prosperity of fathers and their families laid the foundation for the listening session with workforce development agencies. The workforce development practitioners came with an earnest desire to hear what the fathers from the April listening sessions had to say about their experiences and concerns.  Many expressed desire to use that information to help create systems that can better address families’ needs.  Focusing on collaborations that put fathers and families first and build out the supports they need in obtaining long-term, meaningful employment can help workforce development agencies, and fathers find success.

Imani Victoria Bryan, PLI Academy Manager, Center for Urban Families. For more information on the Practitioners Leadership Institute, visit
Jen McHenry, Manager, National Responsible Fatherhood Clearinghouse