Academic journal article Career Development Quarterly

Welfare-to-Work Services: A Person-Centered Perspective

Academic journal article Career Development Quarterly

Welfare-to-Work Services: A Person-Centered Perspective

Article excerpt

Services designed to assist job seekers to leave public assistance and gain employment are well established throughout the U.S. Many of these programs are created and delivered by professionals of higher socioeconomic class backgrounds, but many program participants are of lower social class status. This situation can create "cross-class" difficulties in the design and delivery of effective job-- search services. The author argues that using a person-centered perspective, with the deliberate inclusion of genuineness and empathy in all phases of programming, may neutralize cross-class variables and increase the effectiveness of interventions. Examples from programs emphasizing person-centered concepts are offered.

The landscape of job-seeking services in the United States has begun to look quite different since states have begun requiring many of those on public assistance to move into part-time or full-time jobs (Edwards, Rachal, & Dixon, 1999; Friedman, 1999). This "welfare-to-work" environment is having an impact both on the clients and the deliverers of job readiness services and requires crafting of new regulations and procedures for helping clients move toward paid employment. It also requires new contextual awareness and theory-based choices on the part of policy makers and service deliverers. These new demands on the providers and users of welfare-to-work technology deserve close attention from vocational counselors and psychologists interested in contextual factors in the delivery of job seeking and job-keeping services.

This article specifically explores cross-class issues as they relate to design, delivery, and evaluation of work-related services for clients of low social class. It does so from the perspective of person-centered counseling theory and career counseling (Boy & Pine, 1990; Bozarth & Fisher, 1990; Raskin & Rogers, 1989; Rogers, 1979). Cross-class here refers to the juxtaposition of experiences, cognitions, and behaviors of persons from different social classes. In person-centered terms, Boy and Pine argued that cross-class issues are dealt with most effectively through use of empathy, an understanding of another's view of the world with "biases and views of the empathizer ... virtually eliminated" (p. 10); genuineness, defined as "being a real person who is not playing a role" (Boy & Pine, 1990, p. 10), is recommended as a second condition for minimizing cross-class pitfalls.

Relatedly, policy and program issues from recent research and program delivery are reviewed and evaluated from a person-centered perspective. I propose that vocational professionals should use deliberately explanatory theoretical frames and contextual information related to social class in order to be effective with welfare-to-work clients in the current U.S. policy climate.

Finally, the ability of service providers and policy makers to successfully transcend biases across social classes is addressed. Biases, or stigmas, are defined as "invalidating or poorly justified knowledge structures that [can] lead to discrimination" (Corrigan & Penn, 1999, p. 766). They can interfere significantly with cross-class understanding and lead to rigidity in interpersonal relationships. Professionals' biases, and related concerns about their own competence and effectiveness, can be dealt with through the application of empathy and genuineness, providing an environment in which all parties are seen as having a portion of power and authority in the pursuit of shared goals.

Person-Centered Framework for Job-Related Intervention.

The person-centered approach is applicable in career- and job-related interventions as an extrapolation of the counseling relationship. Bozarth and Fisher (1990) described the vocational counseling process in dyadic terms:

a relationship between a counselor and a client, arising from the client's career concerns, which creates a psychological climate in which the client can evolve a personal identity, decide the vocational goal that is fulfillment of that identity, determine a planned route to that goal, and implement that plan. …

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