Bringing opportunity to welfare recipients Placement: America Works helps move workers from the public assistance rolls to jobs. Companies appreciate the efficiency and cost savings.

May 14, 1998|By Shanon D. Murray | Shanon D. Murray,SUN STAFF

For Lex Reprographics and many other companies in the Baltimore area, finding and hiring entry-level employees can be an expensive venture.

So in lieu of placing a classified ad, turning to a temp agency or letting the job go unfilled for weeks, the Baltimore copying services company turned to America Works Inc., a New York-based job placement service for welfare recipients.

Yesterday, America Works, which opened its Baltimore operation last summer, held a job fair to try to match hundreds of welfare recipients with six companies that have more than 100 openings.

"It's saving us a ton of money," said Derrell Grant, a production manager for Lex Reprographics who attended the job fair to try to fill five openings.

"It would cost us about $14 an hour to hire someone from a temp agency, and I can hire someone from here for $8 an hour," he said. "We can fill the job quickly for less money and get the same quality of work."

Efficiency and cost savings are what America Works officials are hoping will sell companies on their clients. The company has a contract, valued at up to $4.9 million, with the Baltimore Department of Social Services to find jobs for 1,000 welfare recipients in two years.

"We're selling a business service. We're not just dumping welfare recipients off on companies," said Richard Greenwald, America Works' development director.

Founded in 1984, the privately held company has about $7 million a year in revenue. It has three operations in New York, and one each in Indiana and Florida. Baltimore is its most recent venture, said Lee Bowes, the company's chief executive.

Nationally, the company has placed 15,000 workers, 2,000 of these last year. In Baltimore, 600 workers have been placed in jobs, and 300 of them are still employed.

The job fair yesterday was held for welfare recipients who have gone through the America Works program but are not currently employed, said Kent Klopfenstein, general manager for the company's Baltimore office.

The company is part of the emerging business of welfare privatization that is a result of the 1996 federal welfare reform law, said Bernard J. Picchi, a Shearson Lehman Brothers analyst who follows business solutions companies.

The federal law requires states to reform their welfare agencies, and many of them are turning to the private sector, Picchi said.

"Some states are trying to do it on their own, or are turning to nonprofits, but efficiency, more than anything else, is attracting them to the private sector," he said.

The city's Social Services Department refers about 60 welfare recipients to America Works each week for a six-week orientation and skills assessment session.

The period is also used to find job leads for the candidates, as the company calls them.

When they find jobs, they are paid by America Works during a four-month trial period to build the employer's confidence in the worker. During that period, America Works monitors the worker on the job site and intervenes if problems arise.

In turn, America Works gets a fee from the company, out of which it pays the worker, who also continues to receive welfare benefits.

At the end of the four months, if the company hires the worker, she goes on its payroll.

If the worker is still employed after six months, America Works receives a $4,900 payment from the Social Services Department, said Gary Lockett, the department's contract manager.

Success in area

So far, America Works has placed workers with nearly 200 area companies. Lockheed Martin IMS, a division of Bethesda-based Lockheed Martin Corp. that operates a child-support collection office in Baltimore, has 20 workers in a trial period and has hired four permanently.

"Many of them have prior work experience and they are doing the same work as our other employees," said Joyce Mitchell, a project director for the division.

Yesterday, S. Herbert Tinley, the director of development and operations for Park 'N Go parking garages, and lot manager Donna Paige attended the job fair to fill two cashier positions at its garage at Baltimore-Washington International Airport.

Currently, the company has hired five workers from America Works -- four are still in the four-month trial period, and one is on the company's payroll.

"I like that I am under no financial obligation to the worker or to the unemployment office if the person doesn't work out," Tinley said.

Vanessa Covington's trial period at the garage worked out: She was hired as a full-time cashier and dispatcher in December despite not having held a job since high school and spending eight years on welfare.

"I tried to find jobs on my own, but no one wanted to take a chance on me," said Covington, 26. "America Works got me this interview and I was hired the same day."

But not all get immediate results.

America Works matched Antoinette Farley, 36, with three interviews, but none of them turned into a job.

She completed the program in December after years on welfare and a spotty work history.

Yesterday at the job fair, she left her resume with some companies and secured job interviews with others.

"The type of interviews America Works sends us on are with good companies that can offer us a future," Farley said. "I can go find a job at Kentucky Fried Chicken on my own."

Pub Date: 5/14/98

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