There’s a successful formula being used in Wisconsin to increase the earnings of low-income workers, which has resulted in a 72 percentincrease in annual income over the past three years! The Skills Enhancement Program (SEP) provides training opportunities to help low-wage workers enhance their marketable skills so they can obtain higher paying jobs with better benefits. SEP is coordinated by the Wisconsin Community Action Program Association (WISCAP) and administered locally through fifteen Community Action Agencies and United Migrant Opportunity Services.
Eligible participants must be age 18 or older, reside in households with incomes at or below 150% of the federal poverty level, and beemployed at least 20 hours per week. A strong commitment is required to combine training, work, and in many cases raising a family, in the short-term, in exchange for long-term economic benefits. SEP emphasizes short-term, demand-driven, job-focused post-secondary training. Participants are helped to overcome barriers to education by receiving financial assistance to help pay tuition and fees, child care, and transportation costs to attend classes.
Between July-2010 and June-2013, a total of 202 out of 253 individuals (80%) who completed SEP training reported advancing to new jobs within nine months of exiting the program with the following results:
- Average increase in hourly wage = $2.84 (32% increase to $11.57/hour)
- Average weekly hours worked at new job = 34 hours (30% increase)
- Average increase in annual income = $8,561 (72% increase)
- Annual income at new job = $20,461
- More than four times the number of individuals had access to employer health care at their new job = 48% (97 out of 202) compared to the SEP entry-level of 10% (21 out of 202)
An Idea is Born
CAP Services, Inc. (CAP) started the Skills Enhancement Program in 1991 as a response to the growing number of working poor in the workforce. Over the next ten years, CAP’s SEP helped hundreds of people move from poverty wage jobs to higher paying positions.
The high-level success of the program can be seen through (a) Profiles of 20 Program Completers in the report CAP Services’ Skills Enhancement Program - Fox Cities Region, Annual Report –2002, (b) Case Studies in CAP Services’ Skills Enhancement Program: One solution to poverty wage jobs, and these examples from the CAP Services website:
Before Skills Program
After Skills Program
Grocery Store Clerk @ $8.80/hour
$8.80 x 25 hrs/wk x 52 wks
Annual Income: $11,400
Occupational Therapy Assistant @ $16.00/hour + benefits
after 25 months in the Skills Program,
New Annual Income: $33,280
Receptionist @ $7.75/hour
$7.75 x 25 hrs/wk. x 52 wks
Annual Income: $10,075
Lab Technician @ $14.30/hour + benefits
after 19 months in the Skills Program,
New Annual Income: $29,744
Auto Service Attendant @ $10.00/hour
$10.00 x 37 hrs/wk. x 52 wks
Annual Income: $19,240
Auto Diagnostic Technician @ $14.00/hour
after 36 months in the Skills Program,
New Annual Income: $29,120
WISCAP Takes on Replication
Wisconsin’s Governor, Jim Doyle, released his Grow Wisconsin Economic Development Plan in fall of 2005, which announced a $750,000 grant through the Department of Workforce Development (DWD) to WISCAP for replication and expansion of the Skills Enhancement Program across much of the state. He recognized that the original program, created by CAP Services, was achieving remarkable results increasing the earned incomes of working poor individuals. The DWD funds sustained SEP for 20 months, followed by a U.S. Department of Labor grant. In 2010 WISCAP and its member CAP agencies secured $250,000 in ongoing annual funding from the State of Wisconsin, which has been supplemented by $185,000 annually from other local & federal sources.
CAP Agencies must contribute 10% in local funds as match and at least 35% of agency budgets must be allocated to pay “participant support” costs, such as tuition, fees, books, and training-related child care & transportation. Specific activities carried out through SEP are outlined in The Wisconsin Community Action Skills Enhancement Program – 2013 Overview.
SEP has encompassed 75 areas of study with approximately two-thirds in health care fields. The most popular fields of study have included Certified Nursing Assistant, Registered Nurse, Medical Assistance, Medical Coding, LPN, Criminal Justice/Law Enforcement, Child Care Certificate, Business Administration, Accounting, Computer Basics, and Human Services.
Various challenges have arisen during the recession over the past several years such as longer waiting lists for classes with more students returning to school, ineligibility for SEP due to loss of employment, and more participants hired part-time at new jobs. Yet, the program’s success rate is still substantial with 87 percent of SEP graduates with new jobs obtaining employment in their field of study.
Helping workers build their skills to advance into better paying jobs is an important avenue to help workers move beyond dead-end jobs that are inadequate to cover the basic living costs. The accomplishments of Wisconsin’s Community Action Network through the Skills Enhancement Program has greatly helped individual participants and also expanded the pool of skilled workers for employers throughout the state.
The Wisconsin Community Action Skills Enhancement Program – 2013 Overview, Wisconsin Community Action Program Association, August 2013
CAP Services’ Skills Enhancement Program - Fox Cities Region, Annual Report –2002 (see pp. 3-5 for Profiles), CAP Services, Inc.
CAP Services’ Skills Enhancement Program: One solution to poverty wage jobs, (see pp. 2-3 for Case Studies), CAP Services, Inc., February 2, 2002
Skills Enhancement web page, CAP Services, Inc. accessed September 11, 2013
Wisconsin Community Action Network Skills Enhancement Program, Wisconsin Community Action Program Association, circa 2006
The Wisconsin Community Action Skills Enhancement Program – 2013 Overview (see p.2 Program Activities and p. 5 SEP Services Flow Chart), Wisconsin Community Action Program Association, August 2013
The Wisconsin Community Action Skills Enhancement Program – 2013 Overview (see p.3 Challenges arising from the recession and Training Program Details), Wisconsin Community Action Program Association, August 2013