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Employer Resource Networks: A review

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By H. Luke Shaefer and Joshua Rivera

Executive Summary

Employer Resource Networks (ERNs) are an innovative model through which local networks of employers collectively provide work support services to their entry-level workforces, with the goal of enhancing productivity and retention. In this report, we describe the ERN model and detail the current state and functions of these programs nationwide. We explore existing evidence on their efficacy in enhancing employment retention, suggest a future research agenda, and offer proposals to support further expansion.

We find that ERNs hold promise for addressing the societal challenge of unstable labor market attachment among low-earning workers while increasing productivity by reducing churn among entry-level, low-income workers. However, ERNs are limited by the extent of available community resources.

While employer testimonials and program data indicate considerable promise, there is no rigorous evaluation of the model to date. A broader literature investigation finds that coaching and employer involvement in training—key components of the ERN model—can boost earnings and educational attainment. Due to the novel structure of ERNs—particularly the placement of services at work sites and the fact that it is employer initiated—we suggest a set of additional studies that would descriptively examine who the employees and employers are that are served, and we further propose a rigorous impact evaluation of ERNs to see whether they can produce sustained impacts on employment, earnings, and well-being for workers over time. As the debate over how to best encourage and support sustained work for low-skilled individuals receiving social service benefits continues, a deeper examination of ERNs as a private-sector solution could reveal new and promising strategies for supporting workers and their families.

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