By: Caterina Bummara, Senior Manager, ICF

Caterina Bummara is a Senior Manager at ICF, where she directs projects related to self-sufficiency and vulnerable populations.

The views expressed in In Focus are exclusively those of the individual authors and do not necessarily reflect official positions of their employers or clients. References to materials or services in the public domain do not imply endorsement from those entities.


The unemployment rate has been on a downward slope since its peak of 10.0 percent at the height of the Great Recession in October 2009.

From an employment perspective, state and local economies have recovered from the Great Recession.  The June 2018 Bureau of Labor and Statistics release indicates the U.S. unemployment rate decreased to 3.8 percent in May 2018, which is the lowest unemployment rate since April 2000. The only time that unemployment dipped below 3.8 percent was 50 years ago in 1968.

The strong national economy presents a unique opportunity for community based organizations, agencies, and other social services stakeholders to engage employers and connect low-income individuals and other hard to serve populations to employment. With low unemployment rates, businesses have to work harder to find and hire employees than when unemployment rates are higher and more people are in the job market. Connecting the hardest to serve individuals to long-term employment leads to increased self-sufficiency and benefits both families and communities, and can be accomplished with a cohesive employer engagement strategy.

While programs use different approaches basic on the needs of their communities, successful employer engagement strategies follow three tenets:

  • Build sustainable relationships with employers in the community. Start small—building true strategic partnerships is a continuum. Leveraging existing relationships helps open doors to new partnerships. Utilize your existing organizational network to build, grow, and maintain employer relationships.
  • Develop a robust understanding of what employers need. By understanding required skills and certifications, job requirements, and work culture, organizations can better understand what an employer seeks in employees, and in turn, organizations can provide a stronger applicant pool that are intentionally matched with employers. Invite—and encourage—employers to provide feedback
  • Show how your organization can support employers. Center your strategy as a win-win approach for both your organization and the employer. The direct and indirect supports that community based organizations and stakeholders provide low-income individuals can be presented as a selling point for an employer.

Agencies and organizations interested in developing promising employer engagement strategies can access research on employer engagement and employment in the Self-Sufficiency Research Clearinghouse. Innovative program strategies for engaging employers for low-income and hard-to-serve populations can be found on the Office of Family Assistance’s PeerTA website.

Community based organizations can help give low-income populations a leg-up on their paths to self-sufficiency by cultivating relationships with employers. Working with employers directly helps understand what business hiring needs are, to which organizations and agencies can be responsive in their supports to individuals and create a direct pipeline for prospective employees to in-demand jobs.