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UW-Milwaukee - Center for Economic Development

Technical Assistance Report Abstract

The Lisbon Area Neighborhood Development Project: The New L.I.F.E. Skills Survey, January, 1993, by Dr. John F. Zipp

Abstract

Lisbon Area Neighborhood Development (LAND) contracted with the UWM Center for Economic Development (UWMCED) to assist them in the preparation and analysis of a survey of the skills of welfare mothers. The purpose of the project was to help to find jobs for welfare mothers in LAND's neighborhood, through two different initiatives. First, based on the recommendations from the CED, LAND would attempt to start a business employing several of the women they surveyed. Second, for the remainder, LAND would develop a job bank and try to find jobs for these women in existing businesses. This report will summarize the survey, its principal findings, and offer some recommendations for LAND to consider in starting its own business. In addition to this report, UWMCED is providing LAND with a computer-readable copy of the survey data suitable for use with a database program, the frequencies for all the items in the survey, and a copy of OES occupational codes and titles. All except the diskette containing the data base are included in this package of materials.

Background of the Survey

CED worked with LAND to develop a survey instrument which would assess the skills of welfare mothers in a non-invasive, non-threatening format. We shared several important underlying beliefs in approaching this task. First, any project was to be truly collaborative. UWMCED staff took LAND's ideas and interests and produced a rough first version of the survey instrument. Initial revisions were made by LAND staff and Board members, and the survey was substantially changed by LAND staff and the project interviewers during the interviewer training sessions. At all times, UWMCED's position was that the survey belonged to LAND and that our role was to provide assistance on survey design, question wording and format, and other technical issues in survey administration.

Second and relatedly, UWMCED recommended that the interviewers be as similar to the respondents as possible. Given the target population, all of the interviewers were low-income, African-American women from LAND's neighborhood. These women had never done interviewing before and a side benefit of the project was to provide direct training and job experiences to these women in the hope that this would prepare them to obtain future employment in this or related fields.

Third, unlike most approaches to the skills of low-income people which see these individuals as deficient in some way and in need of some enlightened (e.g. education) or punitive (e.g. workfare) measures, LAND and UWMCED saw welfare mothers as untapped resources. We recognized that these women have a lot of skills, talents, and experiences which are marketable in the workforce, and what they mainly need is a decent job. Thus, the survey was designed to tap a wide range of possible job skills which these women may have done on the job, at home, for churches or other organizations, and which could be translated into positions in the local labor market.

Fourth, since it was beyond our expertise to systematically evaluate the actual skills of these women, no attempt was made to do so. Although this may be seen as a shortcoming of the study, both LAND and UWMCED staff agreed that this would be outweighed by a fifth factor: the role of the survey in community building and individual self-esteem. Explicit in the project was the recognition that these women are among the least "listened to" members of society and that it was important to begin to provide an opportunity for them to be heard. Typically seen as devoid of skills and constantly being de-valued by the larger society, it was hoped that allowing these women to talk about their skills in a supportive environment would begin to help them see themselves as talented women who have a wide-range of skills that can be directly linked to jobs. Since the interview took place among residents of a rather small neighborhood, we also hoped that this would help build the capacity of the neighborhood to deal collectively with the lack of employment opportunities in the community.

Finally, all too often survey research "takes" from respondents without giving anything in return. Not only would LAND enter these women in a job bank and actively try to find jobs for them, LAND also returned a copy of the completed surveys to each respondent. The idea behind this was that this survey from would serve as a "skills inventory" for each woman, and that this might help them better realize all that they are capable of doing.

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