Employment Coaching: Working with Low-Income Populations to Use Self-Regulation Skills to Achieve Employment Goals

August 5, 2019
Self-Sufficiency, Welfare & Employment
Evaluation of Employment Coaching for TANF and Related Populations, 2016-2021 | Learn more about this project
Employment Coaching: Working with Low-Income Populations to Use Self-Regulation Skills to Achieve Employment Goals Cover
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  • File Size 471kb
  • Pages 6
  • Published 2019


New research has led policymakers and researchers to argue that some people might not achieve economic independence in part because of difficulty applying the self-regulation skills needed to get, keep, and advance in a job (Pavetti 2018; Cavadel et al. 2017). These self-regulation skills—sometimes referred to as soft skills or executive functioning skills—include the ability to finish tasks, stay organized, and control emotions. Evidence suggests that facing poverty, and the multiple stresses that accompany it, can make it particularly difficult to develop and use self-regulation skills (Mullainathan and Shafir 2013). However, research indicates that interventions can strengthen these important skills (Kautz et al. 2014).

Based on the potential link between self-regulation skills and successful employment outcomes for low-income people, some employment programs, including some offered as part of the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program, pair program participants with coaches (Derr et al. 2018; Pavetti 2014; Ruiz De Luzuriaga 2015; Dechausay 2018). The coaches work with participants to set individualized goals and provide motivation, support, and feedback as the participants pursue their goals. The coaches aim to help the participants use and strengthen their self-regulation skills, succeed in the labor market, and move toward economic security. To assess whether coaching can improve employment outcomes for low-income people, the Office of Planning, Research, and Evaluation is currently sponsoring the Evaluation of Employment Coaching for TANF and Related Populations.


This brief is intended to inform program developers, providers, and policymakers about employment coaching and how it may improve employment outcomes. This brief focuses on how coaches may help participants use and strengthen self-regulation skills to meet employment goals. It first explains the self-regulation skills that are important for success in the labor market and how poverty and its related stressors can hamper their use. The brief then describes the key elements of coaching and the hypotheses underlying how coaching may improve employment outcomes.

Key Findings and Highlights

  • Self-regulation skills are important to employment success, but poverty can make it difficult to use self-regulation skills.
  • Employment coaches collaborate with participants to (1) set personalized goals related to employment, (2) develop action plans to meet their goals, and (3) support, motivate, and provide feedback as participants pursue their goals.
  • Coaching is hypothesized to improve employment outcomes by helping participants apply and strengthen their self-regulation skills. This is done by working with a participant to (1) strengthen the participant’s self-regulation skills; (2) reduce factors that could impede the participant’s use of self-regulation skills; and/or (3) match goals, jobs, and services to the participant’s self-regulation abilities.


Joyce, Kristen and Sheena McConnell (2019). “Employment Coaching: Working with Low-income Populations to use Self-regulation Skills to Achieve Employment Goals” OPRE Report #2019-67. Washington, DC: Office of Planning, Research, and Evaluation, Administration for Children and Families, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Last Reviewed: August 6, 2019