Vocational Foundation (VFI) | GiveWell

# Vocational Foundation (VFI)

GiveWell aims to find the best giving opportunities we can and recommend them to donors. We tend to put a lot of investigation into the organizations we find most promising, and de-prioritize others based on limited information. When we decide not to prioritize an organization, we try to create a brief writeup of our thoughts on that charity because we want to be as transparent as possible about our reasoning.

The following write-up should be viewed in this context: it explains why we determined that (for the time being), we won't be prioritizing the organization in question as potential top charity. This write-up should not be taken as a "negative rating" of the charities. Rather, it is our attempt to be as clear as possible about the process by which we came to our top recommendations.

The last time we examined the charities working primarily in the U.S. was in 2010. As of 2011, we have de-prioritized further work on this cause.

The content we created in 2007 appears below. This content is likely to be no longer fully accurate, both with respect to what it says about the organization and with respect to what it implies about our own views and positions.

Published: 2007

Vocational Foundation applied for a grant GiveWell offered in 2007, but did not receive the grant. The information below explains why.

# In a nutshell

What they do: VFI works with disconnected youth and puts them through a 15-week program including GED prep, skills training, "soft skills" training, and followup. It aims to place them in jobs paying around $10/hr on average. Does it work? We believe that VFI's clients benefit substantially, relative to what they could likely do on their own. What do you get for your money? We roughly estimate that it costs VFI about$17,000 to sustainably place a disconnected youth in a relatively low-paying job (averaging around $10/hr). Where they rank: VFI and HOPE are the two strongest organizations we've seen in the category of helping extremely disadvantaged people obtain relatively low-wage (around$10/hr) jobs. We are more impressed by HOPE, but recommend VFI over other organizations with this goal.

# The Details

## Whom do they serve?

VFI serves “disconnected youth”: 17-21 year olds who are neither employed nor in school. VFI's entrance requirements are less strict (in terms of the level of education required) than those of Year Up or the skills training programs for Highbridge and St. Nick's, although we believe that VFI's population served faces fewer barriers than those of organizations like CCCS, Covenant House, and HOPE.

Selection. VFI gets its clients through referrals from the New York City Housing Authority, DOE, and other organizations (Attachment A-2 Pg 2). The program requires at least a 6th-grade level proficiency in reading (Attachment A-2 Pg 2), and the numbers on Attachment A-2 Pg 2 imply that applicants must be between 17-21, and classified as "low-income" (we aren't sure exactly what this means). VFI conducts a several-stage screening process, and about 2/3 of those who originally express interest end up self-selecting out, although VFI accepts all or nearly all of those that meet its fairly basic requirements (the source for this information is a response to our initial draft of the review, which we do not have clearance to make public).

Attachment B-4 Pg 10 makes it sound as though VFI's screening process is unusually involved, and thus ends up causing more people to self-select out, than is typical. We don't know whether this is the case, though (it could easily be true that HOPE and Covenant House conduct similar screening and experience similar self-selection).

Characteristics. VFI states that its clients have the following characteristics (Attachment A-2 Pg 2):

• Ethnicity: predominantly African-American and Latin-American.
• Income: Low. 25% are on government assistance, which implies being below the federal poverty line (we see a "self-supporting" income as being roughly twice the federal poverty line).
• GED/HS degree: 23%
• In public housing: 75%
• Past conviction: 15%

## What do they do?

VFI offers a fifteen-week, 7.5 hours/day program, including:

• Vocation-specific training (medical administrative assistant, office support specialist, computer technology, security guard and bank teller – see Attachment A-2 Pg 1).
• General job training (writing a resume, what to wear to work, etc. – see Attachment A-2 Pg 3).
• Pre-GED literacy and GED training (Attachment A-2 Pg 3).
• Job placement services.
• A relationship with a counselor who continues working with graduates for two years after program completion (Attachment A-2 Pg 3).

## What are the results?

Below data is from Attachment A-4 Pgs 1-4.

Spring 04 Fall 04 Spring 05 Fall 05 Spring 06 Fall 06 Spring 07
Enrollees 94 108 110 108 150 150 150
Graduates (%enrollees) 62 (66%) 77 (71%) 70 (64%) 79 (73%) 114 (76%) 123 (82%) 125 (83%)
Placements (%graduates) 56 (90%) 66 (86%) 59 (84%) 72 (91%) 98 (86%) 105 (85%) 105 (84%)
3m retained (%placements) 53 (95%) 64 (97%) 57 (97%) 69 (96%) 96 (98%) 103 (98%) N/A
6m retained (%placements) 45 (80%) 59 (89%) 54 (92%) 69 (96%) 94 (96%) 92 (88%) N/A
12m retained (%placements) 42 (75%) 58 (88%) 53 (90%) 67 (93%) 86 (88%) N/A N/A
24m retained (%placements) 35 (63%) 50 (76%) 38 (64%) N/A N/A N/A N/A
Avg wage $8.08$7.98 $8.16$8.40 $9.13$9.22 $9.82 Career advancement wage ?$9.96 $9.39$10.75 $10.71 ? ? Took GED 39 37 17 46 35 57 36 Passed GED (%took GED) 18 (46%) 25 (68%) 12 (71%) 17 (37%) 23 (66%) 37 (65%) 23 (64%) ### Placements VFI places about 60% of its enrollees in sustainable employment (lasting at least 12 months). Graduate to enrollee ratios have improved dramatically as time has gone on; going forward, we'd expect 80% of enrollees to graduate (as they have recently). Placement-to-graduate rates have held pretty constant in the 85% range. 12m retention, as a percentage of placements, has generally been around 90%. 80% * 85% * 90% =~ 60% of all enrollees placed sustainably (12m+). We have very little data on 24-month retention, but what we have shows further attrition (note that VFI defines retention as having no periods of unemployment lasting 3 months or more - see Attachment A-4 Pg 4). We ignore this for purposes of discussing "sustainable job placements," because (a) it is a small sample; (b) we don't have 24-month retention data for our other applicants, and are using as consistent as possible a definition of "sustainable job placements." 25% or fewer of those who are sustainably placed also obtain their GED through VFI, which presumably improves their future earning potential (see immediately below). ("Or fewer" is meant to account for the fact that the GED figures may include those who were not placed in jobs.) ### Incomes and career paths Clients initially earn an average of around$10/hr; career paths vary by occupation but appear generally limited.
Attachment A-4 Pg 8-10 indicates that VFI trains people as bank tellers, security guards, and administrative assistants (general and medical). According to the US Department of Labor data that VFI included with its application, bank teller appears to be the role with the best career path, starting at $9-12/hr and getting up to$30,000-50,000 (pg 8); no salary data is given on administrative assistants, and security guards are stated to be in the $8.50-$13/hr range (pg 9).

## Conclusion

VFI is a standout in terms of providing clear, thorough documentation and evaluation of itself; we find it second only to HOPE in this respect. It also places a large proportion (~60%) of people in jobs, sustainably, despite serving a highly undereducated population.

We lack strong comparison group data for any of our organizations, which would help us more clearly identify how much they help clients beyond what the clients could likely accomplish themselves. We rank VFI behind HOPE, because we find HOPE's results more impressive for the population it is working with (this is partly because we have more semblance of comparison group data for HOPE, and partly simply because of our intuitions about the difficulty of serving HOPE's population).

## We'd like to know more about:

• Comparison group data. We still lack the information necessary to look at a moderately relevant "comparison group" for VFI, in order to gauge the extent of its impact beyond what clients would likely accomplish without its help. Above we describe a couple of attempts to get a very rough sense of this.

## Attachments

### C. Organization related attachments

See Attachment A-4 for general organization information.

### D. Financials

The audit we were sent is available in hard copy only. Form 990s are available from GuideStar.