Workforce Development Programs Must Put Focus on People

Updated on August 28, 2023

John G. Lovelace, UPMC for YouBy John G. Lovelace

Training programs that are designed to help persons find meaningful employment who are from low-income families or who have disabilities need to do more than just connect people to work opportunities.

When workforce initiatives put more focus on the program than the person they are working with they are unlikely to produce positive results. There needs to be an enhanced paradigm of workforce development, one that recognizes that understanding is the basis for successful employment.

In the working world, there’s landing a job and there’s keeping a job. The latter is sometimes more difficult than the former.  When employers have plenty of job applicants, they have little patience for underperformers.

Those who come from disadvantaged, low-income backgrounds often have difficulty realizing the need for employment as well as knowing how to find and keep a job. For these people, barriers such as child care and transportation can be daunting and workplace expectations can be overwhelming.

At UPMC a couple of innovative workforce development programs have shown that those barriers can be overcome through education and training.

UPMC noticed among its own workforce that the turnover rate for service level positions had become high and needed to do something about it.  It created an innovative program called the Partnership on Workforce Readiness and Retention, or POWRR.

POWRR – a collaboration with UPMC and several community partners – is designed to help people choose career paths within the health care industry. POWRR helps prepare them for jobs and develop the skills needed to keep those jobs. UPMC reaches out to populations with significant barriers to employment including persons with disabilities, those in welfare-to-work programs, people with limited work experience and/or education, those for whom English is a second language, and people with criminal backgrounds.

The POWRR curriculum includes workshops in understanding the job, preparing for the job and learning how to get the job. After successfully completing the three workshops, job seekers become POWRR certified and are guaranteed contact with UPMC, usually in the form of a phone interview.

Since the program launched in 2010, UPMC hired more than 250 participants via the POWRR program. Moreover, as of December 31, 2012 the retention rate for POWRR program participants was 66.3 percent higher than for employees hired through traditional recruitment methods.

Discipline is a vital skill that is taught in another UPMC offering, the UPMC Health Plan Pathways to Work program. This program, which began in 2007, has become the first step in a successful career for many participants.

The program starts with UPMC Health Plan hiring someone to work in an administrative position as a temporary employee. Employees are chosen among those receiving cash assistance from the state’s Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) program.  HR staff works with the employee to help him or her to develop the job skills and discipline necessary to be an effective worker.  HR staff also looks for UPMC system-wide positions that appear to be a good match for the employee.

The Pathways to Work program has proven to be a “launching pad” for many UPMC employees who find jobs that match their abilities and who know how to hold onto the position once they get it.

UPMC’s workforce programs have yielded success and improved lives because of the focus those programs put on the individual job seekers. As a result, success has been tangible for the participants – they have had success in preparing for a job, success in finding a job, and success in taking the first steps on a true career path.

John Lovelace is president of UPMC for You, a managed care organization that serves Medical Assistance and Medicare Advantage Special Needs Plan recipients in 40 counties in Pennsylvania. He holds graduate degrees in rehabilitation counseling from the State University of New York at Buffalo, as well as in information services from the University of Pittsburgh. For more information, visit


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