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What are retention services?

Retention services are provided to participant workers who have graduated from an employment social enterprise’s program and transitioned to unsupported employment, such as job placement in a competitive employer or advancement within the social enterprise. We can call these folks “alumni.” Retention services include a range of intentional supports to help individuals retain either a specific job or employment generally – by preventing backtracking, incentivizing success, facilitating re-employment, and/or supporting in building a better future for individuals. Services are typically offered for six months to two years after exiting the social enterprise.

Why is it important?

  • Having retention services enables employment social enterprises to:
    • Assist alumni who need support in overcoming barriers, achieving goals, and gaining new skills during the crucial transition period into permanent and / or unsupported employment.
    • Support better outcomes for continued employment post-graduation at the 30-, 90-, 180-, and 365-day milestones.
    • Increase the satisfaction of employer partners and improve the enterprise’s reputation and fundraising ability.
    • Learn from academic research on promising retention strategies and incorporate best practices into service planning.

Best practices   

Consider what your organization’s goals are for providing retention services and how deeply you want to engage with alumni

  • On the more transactional end of the spectrum, a key goal may be to monitor and collect data from alumni after they have graduated. This would involve following up with alumni to ask if they are still employed and verifying employment. Setting a goal to follow-up shortly after hire is a good way to get an early read on retention. 
  • Organizations that want to be more involved with alumni may have a goal of supporting the retention of folks in their current jobs – which would mean checking in with individuals and coaching them on challenges in their current jobs.
  • Enterprises that want to extend their involvement further might have a goal of supporting the retention of alumni in employment more generally, offering rapid re-employment services and assistance transitioning to subsequent jobs.
  • For even deeper engagement, organizations could choose to support the career development and income growth of alumni following initial placement (e.g., providing hard skills certifications and soft skills training for negotiating a pay raise).
  • On the most active coaching and engagement end of the spectrum, organizations might have broader goals of supporting alumni in building a community and stabilizing all aspects of their lives – offering mentorship opportunities, alumni programs, and mental health services. 

Review promising retention strategies and consider whether they would be appropriate for your organization and alumni

  • Specialized job coaching and counseling: This is not generic, one-size-fits-all job coaching, but instead specific and concrete guidance tailored to an individual’s needs and, sometimes, the employer’s needs as well.
    • Meet consistently with alumni to build a strong relationship that will help support them through the long journey ahead.
    • Make interactions as meaningful and actionable as possible; alumni tend to disengage when they find coaching to be generic because they do not see the value in it. To be effective, job coaching should consider an individual’s background, experience, and personal and professional goals and offer tactical guidance (e.g., sharing information about a worthwhile skills training or specific job opening). Develop an individual plan broken down into tangible steps and celebrate each accomplishment.
    • Use a strengths-based, proactive approach. Focus on positive opportunities, and try not to get stuck solely on barrier removal. Become familiar with different industries and associated career ladders, and discuss an individual’s long-term goals and what it will take to get there. Help alumni find better opportunities and learn to advocate for themselves.
    • Explore opportunities to shift or expand your program staff’s hours of operation, and engage alumni at or near their employment sites. 
    • Develop close relationships with employers and, when possible, seek out feedback on how alumni are faring in their new roles. Look for early indicators of challenges such as failure to fit in at work, lack of enthusiasm, lack of confidence, chronic lateness, etc. 
    • Find out how some social enterprises approach and staff for coaching alumni.
  • Wage supplements: There are many benefits to offering wage supplements, including increased take home pay early on during the vulnerable transition period into a new job, a cushion for work-related expenses that may come up (such as a uniform or car repair), and immediate financial support (vs. the Earned Income Tax Credit, which could be year away, for example).
    • In communications with alumni, it is important to frame wage supplements in a positive way using terms such as “supplement” or “stipend” – as opposed to an “incentive”, which could imply a worker’s lack of motivation.
    • Supplements should be significant enough to be worth an alumni’s while and should be kept simple (vs. offering too many different supplements).
    • Consider opening an emergency fund for alumni that is relatively easy to access and can help relieve the distraction / stress caused by immediate financial need, thus mitigating the potential of job loss.
    • Learn about factors to consider in designing and implementing wage supplements.
    • See how some employment social enterprises have used financial incentives to maintain contact with alumni, provide support, and recognize achievements.
  • Rapid re-employment: If a job loss occurs or is about to occur, it is important to get the individual back into the workforce as soon as possible, since the longer someone is out of the labor market, the less likely it is they will return to it.
    • Be poised to help alumni get re-employed quickly if job loss occurs. A first job is sometimes not a good fit, and helping individuals quickly find second or third placements can be an important factor in successful retention. 
    • These second and third placements can also be an opportunity to find better jobs. Be sure to work with alumni to revisit their career goals, needs, and barriers in these conversations. 
  • Rehire at your social enterprise: This refers to maintaining a policy that provides potential for temporary rehire of alumni who lose external employment. Such a policy can help prevent individuals facing a temporary setback from a downward spiral.
    • Set and communicate clear guidelines regarding eligibility, conditions, and duration of rehire.
    • The existence of such a policy might help reduce “fear of failure” and encourage participant workers’ initial transition in external employment.
  • Regardless of the type and level of services your organization provides, be proactive and persistent in marketing the services and incentives you offer. 

Keep alumni needs in mind when designing the structure and delivery of retention services

  • Consider using a commitment device: Depending on an individual’s needs, barriers, and goals, it may be helpful to develop something like a retention services contract that is co-developed with participant workers and outlines an outreach schedule for once they exit. A participant worker’s formal agreement to engage in future check-ins with the organization can introduce accountability and may help improve the success of retention outreach efforts.
    • Connect as early in the transition period as possible: The move into a permanent role with limited support (compared to the social enterprise’s program offering) can be a difficult transition for alumni. Knowing that there is someone from the program who is available to support them can help ease stress during this time. If it is possible to call alumni within the first day or week of their new job, doing so can help gauge the individual’s placement fit, answer any questions they have, and offer coaching early on.
    • Consider developing tactics to encourage engagement: Make it as easy as possible for an individual to stay connected with your organization by offering the option of remote check-ins and sending encouraging messages / reminders at retention milestones via the individual’s preferred communication method (e.g., text, call, or email). Of course, be respectful of individuals who decide they want to opt-out of retention support. 
    • Track alumni’s goals and progress: It may be helpful to use case management software to store, easily access, and update information on an alumni’s goals, motivations, and progress over time. In this way, program staff can have the latest employment, retention, and outreach information readily available during coaching check-ins, and alumni will not feel like they are starting from scratch each time.
    • Think about specific policies related to the delivery of your retention services and build those into your overall retention strategy. 

Additional Resources