Leaders of workforce development programs have been taking the initiative to integrate financial literacy and capability services into their own curriculum and services. However, this requires resources, knowledge, and capacity that workforce development programs may not have. With support from JPMorgan Chase & Co., The Prosperity Agenda partnered with two workforce development programs with the goal of answering, “How might we improve the financial wellness of graduates in career development programs?”
Staff at workforce development programs often shy away from offering more robust financial capability services, such as financial coaching or credit counseling, due to:
- Lack of resources – There is usually not enough staff time and program resources for financial coaching and other trainings to build capacity internally at organizations. The 2016 Financial Coaching Census listed a lack of dedicated funding for 1) financial coaching training and 2) implementation and integration challenges as key barriers to programs integrating financial coaching more regularly. Additionally, this “add-on” training is usually the first budget line to be scrutinized during resource constrained times.
- Lack of confidence in financial topics and resources – We often hear that staff in social service and non-profit programs have experienced some financial insecurity and struggles of their own, which makes them hesitant to offer financial advice to their students. On top of this, the American financial system is complex and assisting people in navigating their finances can be daunting, especially with the fear that the financial advice you offer to your students could lead them to financial trouble.
- Lack of time during workforce training program – Time is often limited in workforce development programs due to the amount of technical information and skill-building that needs to be covered in the program. For example, many apprenticeship programs include on-the-job training, math classes, physical fitness, and shop classes. Finding time to dedicate to financial literacy or capability topics can be logistically challenging because it may mean shortening other curriculum, or replacing a hands-on activity that students need to be immediately successful in their new career paths.
- Lack of resources to develop something new or customized – Although many workforce programs have identified a need for additional services and support for their students (such as financial capability), there is often a lack of resources to develop something new or customized that speaks directly to the needs and challenges that their students face.
- Lack of ability to make the financial resources timely – The financial capability field often discusses how important it is to think about the “point of integration”: integrating financial capability services into a moment where the students are already thinking about money and their financial future. However, many students in these programs will not observe a significant income increase until they have exited the program. Being a part of these programs results in a significant time commitment where the students do not receive any income. In these circumstances, talking about savings or budgeting at a time of financial insecurity and uncertainty can feel inappropriate as students are not sure what their financial future will hold yet.
- Lack of engagement from students in classroom - based financial education -- We find that even when financial workshops are offered onsite for students, that engagement can be low from the students. This has been found to be the case with many classroom based financial education classes. Often we hear that the curriculum is not meeting students where they are in their financial lives making it seem like the information they’re learning isn’t relevant.
Due to these challenges, some organizations choose to pursue a referral or partner model where they bring in an outside resource once a month for their students. While this model has worked well in some cases, it is not ideal for these reasons:
- Finances can be overwhelming and anxiety-inducing, and bringing in an outside resource into the program can result in losing the existing trusted relationships students have built with the workforce program staff.
- Every organization is different, so outside resources rarely have a complete grasp on the specific needs and challenges of the population the organization is serving, as well as the unique, strategic priorities of the organization itself.
- Outside resources typically provide financial resources to students once a month or once during a cohort cycle. This one-and-done model does not create a trusted, open, and ongoing space for students to talk about finances when it makes the most sense for them.
Strategies and Recommendations
In response to the insights and challenges we learned, The Prosperity Agenda created Money Mindset Cards, activity cards that help staff facilitate conversations that allow their students to develop their own path to financial well-being. We learned that financial capability integration is not about delivering more information more frequently, but about building mindsets when it comes to the culture of money by talking about it early and often. Through dialogue generated by activity cards we inspire clearer goals and meaning when it comes to money, build healthy identities with financial wellness, and create intention for the financial future students want.
Our goal is not to change mindsets, but to create awareness that people have a money mindset that impacts their day-to-day lives, their decisions, and their future. In this way, we can start acknowledging there are no good or bad financial decisions--there are just decisions people make that is the best decision for them in that moment. Money Mindset cards generate dialogue that is student-driven, so we can start acknowledging the savviness, intuition, and strength of people experiencing financial insecurity.
We’ve heard from staff testing these cards that they are able to start conversations with individuals from a place that truly matters to them. They are able to make more technical financial knowledge relevant because they are learning what is driving their students, and what is important to their students in these financial discussions. Staff say that in a cohort model the cards facilitated faster bonding because the cards create a safe space to discuss the financial realities people are facing. “We don’t have to pretend we all have it together when it comes to finances” – a difficult, but transformational sentiment when it comes to personal and professional growth. Staff say they are learning right alongside their students when using the Money Mindset Cards. Not only are they learning more about their students’ lives, they’re also uncovering what drives their own decisions and what challenges they have with their own money mindset.
Tools & Resources
Money Mindset Cards are rooted in the belief that all people are good with money. Choose a card and start a conversation that leverages strengths, develops financial confidence, and builds financial control. With a deeper understanding of unique needs and desires, people can connect to relevant financial services and education.
Use the cards at home or work, one-on-one, or in a group. Combine multiple cards to create a full workshop, or incorporate them into existing curricula or professional development.
The Financial Capability Integration Project blends financial capability services with employment and career training programs in South King County, Washington, which has higher poverty and unemployment in the county and state, as a whole. We want to thank JPMorgan Chase & Co. for their generous support of this project. Also, thank you to our project partners: Seattle Goodwill’s Youth Year-Round Program (YYRP) and Apprenticeship & Non-Traditional Employment for Women (ANEW), for their guidance and support in developing and testing our design-product, Money Mindset Cards. For more information, go to http://www.theprosperityagenda.org/financial-capabilityintegration-project.