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. (Author abstract)