Fountain House Employment Adapts to Contracting Economy

Posted on February 17, 2012
Fox 5 is one of many corporations that partners with Fountain House to provide job opportunities for members.Fox 5 is one of many corporations that partners with Fountain House to provide job opportunities for members.Fountain House is finding innovative ways to meet the current labor market’s challenges to members’ financial needs. By more precisely defining Fountain House’s employment structure, the Employment Unit team is becoming stronger at attracting work opportunities for members. 

Employment through Fountain House has traditionally been divided into three sectors: Transitional Employment (TE), Supported Employment (SE) and Independent Employment (IE). In TE, Fountain House (FH) provides the most support. Fountain House has existing relationships with corporations and firms that offer these six-month entry level positions. Fountain House offers the temporary spot to the ready member and trains him or her, all without a job interview (an interview is a major sticking point for many members). Fountain House can also navigate the member through any interpersonal issues that may arise at work. The TE system used to be extremely effective for many members, with some of them happily working many different positions over many years. However, with the economic contraction of the past few years, the supply of TE jobs has declined while demand among members has increased. Because of this, Fountain House now unfortunately needs to limit the number of these temporary jobs that they can offer to each individual member. In addition, when TE was conceived, it was meant to be a step toward employment in the community and not an end goal in itself.

Given the limitations of the current TE system, Fountain House has more aggressively turned to Supported Employment as a possible alternative. SE’s similarity to TE lies in Fountain House having an existing relationship with the employer. However, SE differs from TE in many important ways. SE jobs are not temporary but ongoing, offering potential long-term financial stability to the member. Also, members must interview for the SE position and in fact are in competition with each other for the job.  Members who work SE are usually trained by the employer, and are more seamlessly integrated into the work environment. However, Fountain House works with employers to train members if needed.

Since TE employers enjoy such a high level of support, it has been more difficult to develop Supported Employment positions. In 2011, Nancy Young, the unit leader of Employment, called an off-site meeting among staff leaders to discuss the future of SE. On the table was discussion about how SE could be defined and explained to prospective employers. They also covered the subject of how members could be encouraged to move on to this more independent level of employment. Nancy interviewed several members, including me, to learn better how SE works for them. Nancy concluded that each SE member interacted with the SE support structure in his or her own individual way. Eventually Nancy decided that SE was really more similar to Independent Employment (an ordinary independent job in the community), because aside from FH’s relationship with the employer, the work relationship between the member and the employer was much the same in SE and IE.

Since that off-site meeting, the progress in the further development of SE (i.e. Independent Employment) has been substantial. Fountain House staff has discovered that they can create more interest for the SE concept by explaining that we can provide the same high level of support as TE positions in the beginning. If the member succeeds, FH steps back as the member can perform ably with less support. The situation is similar to a temp-to-perm model which employers can relate to more than SE. Members who struggle to find jobs in the community benefit because Fountain House serves as a contact to the employer for the member. The new SE model is providing more opportunity to members for whom TE and IE jobs are not available.

Currently, Fountain House staff and members meet every two weeks to discuss their attempts to develop more of these permanent jobs for members. One successful idea has been to approach our current TE employers to ask if they have other entry level positions that would be a good fit for Supported Employment. We are building on strong, established relationships with these employers for mutual benefit.

Fountain House continues to explore ways to forge relationships with employers in the community. There is much room for improvement but already we have made some progress. If you have any interest in helping Fountain House grow its Supported Employment program, contact the Employment Unit at employment@fountainhouse.org or at 212-582-0340, x361.
 
Jonathan N. Brachman
Reception Unit, Fountain House


 

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