Strategic Job Placement for Advancement : Tiered Employment Program

Program/Practice Name: Tiered Employment Program

Agency Name: EDSI

Contact Information:

Raymond Eibel
Phone: (215) 637-5611
Phone: (215) 356-7722
Phone: (919) 366-9130

Type of Program/Practice: A contractor that works to employ TANF clients in phases that allow for wage progression and increased job retention.

Program/Practice Description: EDSI is a Michigan-based company that holds 35 percent of Pittsburgh caseloads and operates two Employment, Advancement, and Retention Network (EARN)1 centers in Philadelphia. The unique Tiered Employment Program has played an integral role in improving both cities' work participation rates by effectively engaging employers and TANF customers for sustained employment and wage progression.

Background/Program History: The idea for Tiered Employment originally stemmed from the Detroit Chamber of Commerce, which developed a ladder system. The initial implementation failed to catch on, due to economic pressures and a number of other factors, but EDSI realized the value of the idea and refined it. EDSI sent 150 questionnaires to employers to find out the average wages of their employees and the average length of time that employers were able to retain those workers. Thereafter, job developers continuously met with employers to learn more about their expectations and their successes. With this information, they were able to develop a process that evolved into a true partnership with the business community in that it enabled EDSI to improve employer's bottom line while simultaneously advancing low-wage workers.

Innovations and Results: The backbone of EDSI's successful operations is the tiered approach to employment, based upon the belief that TANF customers often quit jobs because they fail to see progress along the career ladder, while employers often struggle to retain and replace effective low-wage workers. Early on in the programs, Pittsburgh produced some positive results. From March 20, 2002 until March 20, 2003, 55 employers participated in the Tiered Employment Program and 435 people were enrolled/employed in the program. Seventy-six percent of the 435 (330) were still working at the end of March 2003.

Operations: EDSI develops relationships with employers, knowing that the average retention time is two months for frontline workers. EDSI essentially promises to provide an employee for six months, and then remove that person to advance him or her to a new position, while providing the original employer with a replacement for the next six months. By providing an entry-level worker with a chance to be promoted, the TANF client has the incentive to work consistently toward a promotion. By retaining that person for four months longer than the average entry-level worker, and by providing employers with a job-ready replacement, EDSI is able to reduce costs for the employers as well. This strategic process facilitates the engagement of both the worker and the employer, and continues through three levels of employment to enable the client to achieve self-sufficiency.

Partnering with Employers: EDSI classifies employers' job opportunities as Tier I, Tier II, or Tier III, based on the position available, wage, compensation, hours per week, and benefits. Employment development organizations were trained in the processes of identifying, classifying, and qualifying employers and job seekers for the program. Interested job seekers were provided with information about the program, and those demonstrating a commitment to be involved received an in-depth orientation and assessment to determine the level at which they should enter the program.

Staffing: While job developers are essential for making connections with employers and working with case managers to place customers in appropriate work, another key staff person is the tiered employment coordinator. This individual continuously watches the database of client workers to monitor their progress in a position. When clients successfully maintain employment for the designated time period, the tiered employment coordinator helps them access the next tier. When a client fills a position, that job opportunity is taken out of the database and a different client takes over the Tier I role.


1 The Employment, Advancement, and Retention Network (EARN) Program is a joint initiative of the Pennsylvania Departments of Public Welfare and Labor and Industry.

Tips to Implementation: Agencies interested in implementing a successful work advancement program like Tiered Employment should consider the makeup of their clients and the focus of the program. For example, an agency needs to identify whether it is a welfare-to-work program or a training/educational program and how the Tiered Employment model would add to its service delivery. In addition, a program needs to obtain buy-in from all involved parties and staff to enable it to run efficiently.

Keys to Success: EDSI cites the following factors as major contributors to its success in Philadelphia and Pittsburgh:

  • Be thorough with clients – according to EDSI, people sometimes fail to show up for work because they do not understand all the details. EDSI staff make a special point to cover all the information clients need to get to their workplace and perform successfully. For example, EDSI helps clients plan the proper bus routes and has their job developers tour the sites prior to client placement.
  • Open communication – this applies to communication throughout the EDSI staff, in that case managers need to communicate a client's abilities to job developers, who in turn must communicate to employers to properly match a client with a job.
  • Employer buy-in – EDSI "sells" its customers to the employers, as job developers teach employers how Tiered Employment benefits their bottom line. The idea is that once the client gets his or her foot in the door, that client can advance through the system. EDSI carefully considers the fact that employers have different needs and can offer only certain types of positions. EDSI works carefully to maintain contact with employers and ensure their needs are being met. Also, by developing a network of diverse employers, EDSI helps its clients develop and leverage transferable skills.

Successes: EDSI's success with the Tiered Employment Program is dependent on the consistent nature of the strategy. To help clients retain employment, several steps are taken: implementing clear goals that clients must reach before advancing to the next employment level; contacting working clients at least once per week; developing strong relationships with both employers and clients; offering cash to clients during emergencies; offering financial incentives for job retention; empowering clients to use supportive services; and most importantly, making each client feel supported throughout the process. EDSI notes that clients feel confident they are not going to be dropped after six months, which leads to increased self-esteem and participation in the Tiered Employment Program.

Other Lessons Learned: While the Tiered Employment Program provides a great structure for the average client to find and maintain employment, it does not work as well for the hardest-to-serve customers. EDSI runs one of Philadelphia’s EARN centers, but it contracts with outside providers to meet the needs of clients facing domestic violence, substance abuse, mental health, generational poverty, and other issues.

The following tools are associated with Tiered Employment Program.  Please send us an email at for more information about these tools.

Tiered Employment Path