JO: You’ve mentioned some of the functions that the program plays for employees. Can you expand on those and explain some of the functions for the employer?
CH: The program also educates supervisors and managers on how they can better interact with someone who is at or near poverty. I could go on about the list of benefits that the program has for the employer, but probably the primary thing is that because we do this as a collaborative model it is very cost efficient for all the employers. Other than the larger hospital systems, we don’t have the financial resources to employ someone to do this type of work—but we are able to share the cost of an employee. And so it’s a way to have a different type of assistance program than a traditional EAP (Employee Assistance Program).
And then for the employee, the benefit for them is the flexibility. A lot of these employees either, one, wouldn’t have the ability because of transportation challenges to get to an EAP center if they needed to talk to a councilor or, two, they may not be comfortable in an office setting. This coordinator goes to where the employee is. So if the employee wants to meet at work, at home, or at the McDonalds on the corner, wherever they want to meet, that’s where the coordinator is going to go.
JO: What types of organizations participate in the collaborative and how?
CH: We have partner organizations such as Goodwill and local colleges, other not-for-profits, and government agencies too.
DH: For example, Grand Rapids Community College put together an in-depth CNA (Certified Nurses Aide) program based on the employers’ needs. Also, the college has been tailoring a couple other programs based on what we feel are shortages in nurses’ education. Davenport University is another local university here. They were involved with our ACT (Access, Counsel, and Train) program quite a bit; we used their locations.
And then on the government side, we try to expand our program with opportunities that come about. We were able to get a grant and use some of those dollars to help fund our ACT program. So we definitely try to involve partners to enhance the program as much as possible.
JO: Explain a little bit about the ACT program, a new initiative spun off from the OPEN program.
DH: ACT stands for Access, Counsel, and Train. It is designed to help someone get to the next step in their life. It could be a financial next step or could be a personal interest next step. And the goal is to get them into a position in which they’ll be happier or financially a step up.
So we put together a kind of a module. First we had the person come in to access what interests they have. We received a grant for WorkKeys, which provides assessments that evaluate their hard/technical skills, like math, reading, and locating information. So that gives them a realistic look at where their hard skills are and provides an opportunity to remediate those skills, which helps to prepare them if they want to go to college.
And then the training, based on their interests and goals developed through the career exploration, potentially comes around. Here at Holland Home, I think there were 11 or 12 employees that took advantage of that program. Overall, the HFC organizations have had close to 80 participants go through the pilot, and that number continues to grow.
I actually have a nurse manager who is looking for a career for when she retires. She isn’t looking for a financial step up, but she wants to continue on part time and she’s looking for the job that will make her happy. So that was her goal. I had a couple nurse aides that were financially looking to take a step up. So ACT assessed their interests, figured out what it would take, and then involved Davenport and Grand Rapids Community College. They offered councilors to help guide the employees through the process, and we had financial aid representatives there also.
CH: The OPEN program helps maintain their employment. And then once we finished the pilot and that was operational, we said, OK, what about the person who doesn’t want to simply maintain employment? What about the person who wants to have a career change or the person who may simply want to move into a different position? And that is where ACT came in. How can we first of all help that person recognize what position is the right fit for them and then also help them access any training and/or financial assistance they may need. And we give them those tools and resources so that they could potentially go into a career or a high-paying position.
JO: Your program is mostly working in Kent County, and you are currently starting to expand your program to other communities. With the program based directly on the needs of employees, the program seems adaptable, as is the nature of most collaborative models.