10/25/2012 05:38 pm ET Updated Dec 25, 2012

Partnerships Advance Financial Stability Goals Across America

The cost of housing, health care, child care, gas and other basics is outpacing income in America. Just one unanticipated expense -- a car breakdown or an uninsured illness -- can lead to a financial crisis.

Today we live in a world where working families are forced to work one or more full-time jobs and unfortunately still don't earn enough to make ends meet.

Building financial stability is too big a job for any single organization; too big even for the nonprofit sector to solve without engaging private enterprise and government as partners.

But there are innovative public-private-nonprofit partnerships across the country that are working to help low-wage working families achieve greater financial stability, and ultimately financial independence.

Sector-based strategies are an effective approach for increasing the number of people with family-sustaining jobs by aligning education and training opportunities with employer needs in specific labor markets. A 2010 study from Public/Private Ventures shows that participants in sector-based training programs earned almost 30 percent more than those in traditional workforce development programs. They were also more likely to find jobs and work more consistently in industries with higher wages and with benefits.

Hartford, Connecticut is one of 32 communities that have embraced this new approach to workforce development, according to the National Fund for Workforce Solutions. The Workforce Solutions Collaborative of Metro Hartford invests in the development of an educated, self-sufficient workforce with skills regional employers need. It convenes employers, educators, government, service providers, and philanthropic organizations to address workforce development needs within key industry sectors that provide for job and career advancement.

The effort currently targets three sectors that -- given the right training and support -- offer lower lower-income employees the opportunity to advance into middle-skill jobs manufacturing, energy and utilities, and heath care. Supported by the United Way of Central and Northeastern Connecticut, the Collaborative leverages public and private investments to strengthen and expand the region's workforce education and training system and enhances access to support services for lower-income workers.

So far, almost 800 workers have completed sector-based training programs, and 155 of them are now earning more as a result. The Collaborative has also developed a number of tools that have influenced regional and statewide workforce training efforts, including:

  • A skills matrix to help human resources assess skills and identify training needs based on business goals;
  • A developmental education curricula for careers in energy/utilities;
  • Connecticut's only education program for inpatient hospital medical coders; and
  • College credit for clinical certificate program for Certified Nursing Assistants.

In Racine, Wisconsin, the United Way of Racine County created Advancing Family Assets two years ago as a "one stop shop" to help families get back on track to financial independence, engaging business, schools, government and the faith community.

Advancing Family Assets works to help adults get jobs or better jobs; families manage their money better; young children are ready to succeed in kindergarten; kids do better in school and participate in afterschool activities; and all family members practice healthy lifestyles.

Families -- adults and children alike -- work on goals in the areas of income, health and education. Coaches work with families to create Individual Success Plans that lead to proficiency, step by step.

To build financial stability, families work on secure employment in the mainstream economy, and better management of financial assets. A job coach connects them to job training and support, and a credit union provides financial literacy training and other help. Faith communities are involved too, as teams from local churches, synagogues or mosques support families with things like mentoring, tutoring, providing transportation or child care

Racine's program is still new, with just over 100 families taking part. But full-time employment has increased significantly in participants, and 91 percent paid off old debt with the financial education and support. Families have filed taxes, moved to safer homes and continued to build their lives.

These two communities are working together in new ways, with people from all parts of the community coming together to act collectively to help local families become financially stable and build stronger lives. It's hard not to be inspired by their work.