What really matters in planning welfare-to-work employment training
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The program planning process is an area of practice where the use of knowledge and power reconstructs or perpetuates a system in which some people are privileged and others disadvantaged. The purpose of this study was to understand how power relations shaped welfare-to-work employment training programs for African American public housing residents. Three research questions guided the study: (a) How do relationships of power shape whose interests are represented in the planning process? (b) How are planners’ interests negotiated in the planning process, and (c) How are planners’ interests expressed in specific features of the training program? Data for this study were collected by using interviews, documents, and observations. The multisite design involved two housing authorities, where 15 people were interviewed. Data analysis was completed using the constant comparative method. Data were analyzed separately for each authority’s welfare-to-work employment training program and a comparison of commonalities and differences was explored to determine whose interests mattered in the program planning process. Analysis of the data revealed that (a) stakeholders’ power is relational and multi-dimensional (b) specific program features represent the interests of stakeholders with the most power, and (c) program outcomes maintain organizational power and interests. Both executive directors in this study acknowledged that they were the most important person at the table in planning welfare-to-work employment training programs. These executive directors used their leadership (position) power to negotiate organizational and personal interests so that they not only planned and implemented successful programs to benefit the adult resident learner but also placed their authorities as leaders in the public housing industry. Three major conclusions were drawn from findings of the study. First, racism intersects with other social and organizational hierarchies to shape planning of welfare-to-work employment training programs. Second, learners’ voices in the planning process were overshadowed by those with greater power, affecting the development of employment training programs. Third, employment training programs reproduced the political dynamics of the welfare-to-work system by focusing the problem on welfare recipients.