Job Retention

“Employment retention” indicates whether a program participant is still employed at a certain time after being initially placed in a job. For workforce program participants, employers and funders, employment retention is a much stronger indicator of employment success than job placement. It often gives a better sense of how well a program has prepared a participant to meet the expectations of the workplace (not just to do a job search) and how well it has matched a participant’s skills, needs and interests with the particular needs of employers.  

Employment retention as an indicator is most often tracked by workforce programs for individuals at three-month, six-month and one-year checkpoints after their employment. (Programs funded through the federal government often look at this in terms of employment during the first, second or third quarter after the quarter in which a participant exits the program.) Some programs also monitor retention at 30 days or points longer than one year, if resources allow. It is important for program staff, funders and other stakeholders to understand and communicate how a program is choosing to define job retention, among these options:

  • Point-in-time or “snapshot” method: The participant is employed at the time they are contacted, e.g., on the 91st day after placement. This is the easiest way to define and measure retention, although it does not provide information about how much the participant has actually worked during the time frame.  
  • Continuous employment—any employer: The participant has been employed continuously during the specified time frame, although with more than one employer. In this case, a “gap” of a few weeks for job transition is assumed (usually no more than four to five). 
  • Continuous employment—same employer: The participant has been employed continuously during the time frame with the same employer.

The “snapshot” method of tracking retention is the easiest method to use because it does not require getting as much information directly from the participant. But the “continuous employment” methods give a clearer picture of whether the participant has developed the ability to maintain steady employment. Continuous employment with the same employer best demonstrates job stability and is usually the best goal, but it may not always be possible if an initial placement is not a good “match” or does not offer enough income for the participant to meet basic needs. In this case, quickly making a new placement may be the best route to long-term job stability.

A retention rate is the aggregate number of people achieving job retention as a percentage of the larger group. It is important for a program to understand how well it is preparing program participants for employment, providing support that helps participants navigate the challenges of a new job and maintaining good relationships with employers. To get the best perspective, it is useful to look at retention rates in several ways:

  • As a percentage of participants who are employed;
  • As a percentage of participants who enrolled in program services but may or may not have completed services. While this number will almost always be lower than the percentage of employed participants, it helps a program better understand how effectively it is using resources it has invested overall.   

To get the most accurate picture of retention rates, it is necessary to include only those participants who are “eligible” to have achieved retention at a particular time frame (e.g., a 90-day retention percentage should be calculated using data from only those whose first day of employment is at least 90 days in the past).

Programs usually verify job retention through verbal contacts with employed program participants or their employers, although frequently copies of pay stubs or other signed documentation are needed for confirmation. It is important, however, to use the occasion of verifying job retention information to also have more in-depth conversation about the factors that can affect job retention, such as wages or hours, issues affecting regular attendance, how the participant feels about their job duties, and relationships with co-workers or supervisors. It is also essential to make these contacts in a way that is least intrusive for an employer and is sensitive to some participants’ desires to not be contacted at their workplace.

Some programs may be able to access quarterly earnings data available through their state department of labor, but these data are often not accessible on a timely basis and do not usually provide specifics on hours or wages. 

Public data available from the US Department of Labor (using the “snapshot” definition) indicate that of low-income adults receiving services and placed through the Workforce Investment Act, roughly 80% overall were employed in the second and third quarters after placement. Interim results from Public/Private Ventures’ Benchmarking Project, however (using a variety of definitions), show average program six-month job retention rates ranging from 48% to 70%, depending on various population and service factors.

Many factors can affect job retention rates, including how well a program’s training and other experiences (internships or mentoring, for example) prepare a participant to meet the requirements and challenges of a work environment. Individual participant factors such as ease of transportation or childcare, the timing of work shifts, and health or family-related issues may also affect retention rates. The quality of the job itself is also a key factor, including wages, hours, available benefits, opportunities for training and career advancement, and overall working environment.  

If a participant’s employment does end, it is important as much as possible to capture the primary reasons for termination (ideally from both the participant’s and the employer’s perspective). Analyzing the frequency of various reasons over time can inform your program about how well you are preparing participants for employment and whether you are effectively matching participant and employer needs. A tool for capturing the reasons for employment termination is below.

Surveys / Assessments


Sources Cited

Attachment B: Definition of Key Terms. (2010, January 8). Retrieved 11/29/11 from

Clymer, C., Maguire, S., Miles, M., Woodruff-Bolte S.. (2010). Putting Data to Work: Interim Recommendations From the Benchmarking Project [Data file]. Philadelphia, PA: Public\Private Ventures.

A report on the Benchmarking Project’s data on job placement and job retention rates of programs with different characteristics will be available in Spring 2012. The project’s data sample includes aggregate information on 330 one-year program cohorts operated by 200 organizations (primarily community-based nonprofits).

Andersson, F., Holzer, H., and Lane, J. (2005). Moving Up or Moving On? Who Advances in the Low-Wage Labor Market? New York: Russell Sage Foundation.

Social Policy Research Associates. (2011). PY 2010 WIASRD Data Book. Washington, DC: US Department of Labor. Retrieved on 12/12/11 at  

Employment and Training Administration, US Department of Labor.  Retrieved 11/30/11 from