A National Resource to Support Excellence in Community Action
Last Revised: Jul 26, 2013 - Initial Posting: Nov 28, 2003

CAP Services developed the Skills Enhancement Program that promotes increased family self-sufficiency by supporting career advancement through training and education opportunities.  State and federal funding has enabled expansion of the program to eleven other CAAs in Wisconsin.


CAP Services established the Skills Enhancement Program to help families become more economically self-sufficient.  The program provides part-time educational and training opportunities for individuals working in low-wage jobs.

Graduates of the Skills Enhancement Program have averaged an annual increase in earnings of over $10,000The program’s goal is career advancement and obtaining jobs that pay above 150% of the poverty level (measured by hourly wage increases of at least $1.50 per hour for 90% of those completing training and at least $3 per hour for 70% completing their training plans).  Additionally, the program’s goal is to also increase access to employer-sponsored health insurance benefits as many low-wage workers are not eligible for health insurance benefits.  Participants can update skills or complete a college degree.  Assistance is provided with tuition and books, and training-related transportation and child care costs.


The Wisconsin Community Action Association (WISCAP) received a $750,000 grant through the Department of Workforce Development for replication and expansion of the Skills Enhancement Program through the involvement of eleven CAA's in the state in 2006 and 2007 - Skills Enhancement & Community Action in Wisconsin.  WISCAP was subsequently awarded a $237,000 Department of Labor grant to offer services via the 16 community action agencies in the state and United Migrant Opportunity Services (UMOS) for 2009.

Persons are eligible if they work at least 20 hours per week and their household income is less than 150% of the Federal Poverty guidelines.  Training could involve taking several classes at the local technical college, returning to college to obtain a degree, or updating skills through other training opportunities.  Job counseling is available through a Skills Development Manager.  Staff also link participants with existing resources at local training institutions (i.e., career assessment services).  Job shadowing is arranged to help participants understanding the scope of work in that career.  Partners in the business community assist with this program component.

The Skills Enhancement Program maximizes the use of existing resources available through training providers, financial assistance for participants, etc.  CAP Services is the payer of last resort.  All participants must apply for financial aid, as well as assistance available from human service or welfare-to-work organizations.  This ensures that the financial resources of Skills Enhancement go to individuals with no other resources.  Flexibility is also critical - individuals must be allowed to choose their area of training based on their interest, aptitudes and potential for increased earnings.

CAP developed a system of self-sufficiency continuums to help families measure their progress toward established goals in one or more of eleven areas.  CAP’s family development continuums include:  transportation, child care, housing, employment, income, education, academic skills, physical and mental health, access to health care, legal issues, family unity and stressors.  Each continuum incorporates ten points of self-sufficiency.  Family movement from one point on the continuum to another reflects the changes in their lives.  This copyrighted system is available for a fee from CAP Services.  CAP uses this model with all programs where staff expect to work with families longer term (defined as nine months or more).

One emphasis is on non-traditional careers particularly to help women obtain jobs with higher wages, employer-provided health insurance and long-term economic security.  Nearly three-fourths enrolled in Skills Enhancement are women with children.  An Advisory Board is formed in each county and meets bi-monthly to help with fundraising and to maintain awareness of occupational trends.  Members also assist participants with job shadowing when appropriate.  The Boards also assist with fundraising events to benefit the program.  Financial support comes from United Way, private corporations and donors, and previously, some TANF monies.


CAP Services Outcomes

From the 2010 CAP Services Annual Report:

In spite of the economy’s continued bumpy road, 46 of CAP’s Skills Enhancement Program participants completed short-term training and secured new jobs that increased their annual income by an average of $11,758 (average hourly increase of $4.02) in 2010! Almost seventy percent (31 of 46) also now have access to employer-sponsored health insurance benefi ts. They obtained employment in a variety of occupations including health care, business and banking, manufacturing, criminal justice, education and the service industries.

From the 2009 CAP Services Annual Report:

Despite the struggles in the economy, CAP’s Skills Enhancement Program helped 52 low-income individuals increase their annual income by an average of $11,753 (average hourly increase of $5.04) in 2009! Almost three-fourths (38 of 52) now have access to employer-sponsored health insurance benefits. Those completing the program obtained employment as follows: 30 in health care; 3 in office/clerical; 3 in welding/machining; 6 in accounting/business; 4 in criminal justice; 2 in psychology/AODA; and, 1 each in dental hygiene, sales, elementary education and electrical engineering.

The CAP Services Skills Enhancement Program 2007 Annual Report reflects the following results:

  • 318 individuals received services in 2007
  • 83 new participants enrolled in the Skills Enhancement Program in 2007
  • 59 individuals exited the program by successfully obtaining an increase in wages, hours, or health care benefits
  • The average increase in annual income for these participants was $11,458!
  • The average increase in hourly wages was $5.44 (Entry: $8.30; Exit: $13.74)
  • The average hours worked weekly at enrollment was 26 and 32 upon exit
  • The average level of direct financial assistance for those completing was $1,552 and the average length of time in the program was 21 months
  • 38 of the 57 completers now have access to employer paid health insurance benefits (67%)
  • 42 participants have received interim increases and are still receiving services as they continue to pursue their goals (average annual income increased by $2,743; average hourly wage increased by $1.68)
  • 68 individuals left the program without successfully completing their training plans due to the following reasons:
    • 8 moved out of service area
    • 4 no longer needed assistance (financial aid covered total expenses, etc)
    • 7 no longer met income guidelines (increase in household income)
    • 16 health issues/legal issues
    • 9 no longer interested in continuing with training
    • 24 lost contact (no forwarding address/phone number; no response despite multiple attempts)

WISCAP Outcomes

In the first 20 months of the program 11 CAAs enrolled 612 low-wage workers. Ninety percent of enrollees were women; 80% were single parents. The first 100 Skills graduates have experienced dramatic results – doubling their average incomes, and increasing their average earnings by over $10,000 a year! Graduates’ annual incomes have collectively increased by $1 million a year. In addition, 70% of Skills graduates gained access to employer-sponsored health care – a 400% increase over their rate before entering the program. Skills Enhancement has proven to be a cost-effective investment that directly improves the economic self-sufficiency of Wisconsin’s working poor.

Previously, WISCAP issued a press release highlighting Year One results of the statewide replication initiative with an average annual income increase of $11,891 among the 29 participants who exited the program successfully ($21,540 at exit minus $9,649 at entry) and 79% of successful completers with employer-sponsored health insurance at exit compared with 21% of those individuals at entry.

CAP Services - Further Results Information

The Skills Enhancement Program addresses two of the ROMA National Goals:

  • ROMA Goal #1 Low-Income People Become More Self-Sufficient – The Skills Enhancement Program assists working poor individuals to become economically self-sufficient.  Goals include:  at least 30% of participants successfully complete their training plans annually and at least 95% obtain a job that increases their wage by at least $1.50 per hour.  Additionally, 70% of these gain access to employer-sponsored health insurance benefits.
  • ROMA Goal #5 Agencies Increase Their Capacity to Achieve Results - CAP increase its capacity to offer "slots" in the Skills program.  The goal is to mobilize at least $100,000 from public and private sources to serve at least 175 individuals in a year.  In 2002, the program was supported by 32 funding sources.

CAP Services has produced a position paper CAP Services’ Skills Enhancement Program: One Solution to Poverty Wage Jobs that provides detailed documentation of the positive results of the Skills Enhancement Program.  The report cites the epidemic of poverty level jobs in Wisconsin ranging from 1/3 all jobs statewide to 2/3 in rural Wisconsin.

In 2008, CAP’s direct cost (tuition, books, child care and transportation assistance) per graduate was approximately $2,300 and the length of stay in the program is approximately 27 months.  The return on this investment is considerable.  While the median Wisconsin welfare participant obtained jobs that paid $8,583 (including W-2 assistance and food stamps), CAP’s Skills Enhancement participants increased their average annual household income by $8,256 in 2002.

In 2003, persons that completed training increased their income by an average of $11,064.  The average increase in hourly earnings was $4.82 with an average increase in weekly hours from 29 to 36 hours.  70% have access to employer-sponsored health insurance benefits.  The average time in the program was 23 months with an average cost of $2,065 per successful participant.

Program results are also presented in two Annual Reports for 2002 - CAP Services' Skills Enhancement Program, Fox Cities Region (includes profiles of 20 program graduates) and CAP Services, Inc. Skills Enhancement Program - Portage, Outagamie, Waupaca and Waushara Counties (full program highlights).

In 2002, 55 persons completed training that has increased their income by an average of $8,256 (almost half were in the field of health care).  The average wage at enrollment was $7.66 per hour and it grew to $10.44 per hour at exit.  44 of the 55 have health insurance benefits (33 employer-sponsored, 13 Badgercare and 1 through a spouse).  In 2001, the 56 graduates from the Skills Enhancement Program realized average annual income increases from $5,000 - $10,000 (average $8,649).  Another 46 individuals still in training obtained wage increases averaging $1.46 per hour.


Mary Patoka, President/CEO

Nicole Harrison, VP and Director, Human Development Department