Once your SWFI program has honed its outreach and recruitment strategies, you will have a steady stream of participants excited to begin training. But there can be a long time between intake and graduation – or job placement. There are many points along the way when a participant might get frustrated, have a new challenge to navigate, or slip through the cracks. In previous webinars and blogposts, we’ve covered strategies for outreach and recruitment. Now, it’s time to ensure that those who begin a training program have the support they need to persevere.

Building strong relationships with participants can help SWFI program staff spot potential problems early on. Staff can learn more about the potential barriers participants face, and building trust quickly means that participants may be more forthcoming as they experience challenges.

One SWFI program recently implemented a foundational skills workshop in order to set expectations for the program up-front, and to build strong relationships between staff and participants. OAI, Inc. created this two-day boot camp to serve as the final stage of “SWFI selection” – a way to reframe meeting eligibility requirements and successfully completing orientation. It starts with participants going through the eligibility and rules handbook with staff and peers, so that participants are clear on expectations for participating in the program. Next, a career coach facilitates an Employment 101 job readiness workshop, and participants explore careers and labor market information. The second day of the boot camp begins with developing a career plan, and then each participant meets with all staff members – determining a child care plan, working with a program assistant to set up transportation, and ultimately enrolling in technical training.

“Our program is enjoying 100% participant engagement since we implemented this workshop in January,” says Sandra Dafiaghor, the Director of OAI. While it’s helpful to have all of the services in one location and in one concentrated time period, Dr. Dafiaghor emphasizes that it’s relationship-building that makes the biggest difference. Increased engagement is “due in part to the relationship developed during the boot camp, where all SWFI staff meet with each participant.”

OAI’s change to its intake structure reflects several of the tips discussed in the Tip Sheet on Engaging and Retaining SWFI Participants. Creating a boot camp experience, rather than individual intake and orientation sessions, helps build peer connections. As discussed, having staff build relationships with participants early in the process helps strengthen a participant’s safety net.

Depending on when SWFI participants become disengaged or leave your program, it might be worth considering changes to intake processes, case management, tracking, or alternative training timing or models. Is there a time when many participants tend to become disengaged, even though they previously expressed interest or enthusiasm? Tracking drop-off and asking “why” (including following up with participants who have left the program) can provide a wealth of opportunities for small changes that can make a big difference. In addition to relationship-based models like that which OAI developed, behavioral interventions may be particularly interesting for SWFI staff to brainstorm to address challenges. For more ideas about human services programs that have used behavioral interventions, see the following resources: