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The coaches for Project REACH were almost all internal candidates.
- One coach was an employee who had worked with the Nursing Department at the Hospital
- One coach worked in HR as a career coach for several years
- One coach worked in HR as a Skills Enhancement Instructor
- One coach came from outside Hopkins, but previously worked closely with the institution as a union representative
The formal and informal knowledge of the institution that this team brought to the project was extremely helpful. Also, the trust that the employees had with these individuals was a little easier to develop as they had worked with them for the most part in one capacity or another. It is important to note that coaches should have had some counseling experience, and of course strong computer skills, which was needed for managing the database and the variety of computerized skill development programs.
The career coaches’ role with this project included more than case management responsibilities. This made setting time aside each day or week for file maintenance critical. The coaches were assigned departments that were categorized as participant departments where te participants currently work and destination departments where the new jobs exist.
Their role with the participant departments involved working with those employees from those departments who were seeking training and new positions. Departments and affiliate were asked a series of questions that would provide more insight as to how to manage the applicant pool from those areas. Additionally, they worked with the supervisors of those employees to explain how the release time process would work. For some of the larger departments it was necessary to develop a tracking sheet the provided a running account of the completed applications from their department and those employees who earned an assessment score that indicated their readiness for training. Therefore, a readiness for training letter and a listing was developed and sent to departments. It was often difficult for larger departments to keep track of all of the supervisor/manager recommendation forms they received and returned, and this listing provided them with a reminder of which employees they allowed to participate in the program, and where those employees were in the process. Sometimes the departments had to make a decision as to which employees could start training and which ones had to wait for the next training session given the amount of work the department had to complete.
Their role with the destination departments were to learn more about the nature of the openings, coordinate meetings and facilitate training structure decisions with the training providers and the departments, and relay information pertaining to the results of those meetings to the participants.
Once the department/affiliate position needs form was completed, and it was determined across the Health System what positions needed employees, coaches selected which areas they would support. This, in addition to the coaches' experiences with some of the departments, determined for the majority of the time the participant departments that the coaches would support.
The Project developed a guideline for coach visits. This guideline included basic topics that should be covered during the initial visit. They include:
- an explanation of the project and its benefits
- a description of the process and participant guidelines
- a review of the formal assessment results (if available) and informal interview with assessment facilitators
- a review of the available training opportunities
- a review of the program forms
It is important that the coaches understand the guidelines for this visit as it is an essential part of gaining and sharing valuable information with the employees. Again, coaches should conduct these meetings in a private space given the potentially very private information the employees might share.
When meeting with the coach for the first time the employees would fill out an initial contact form, which allows the employee to write out areas of concern, strengths, interests, etc. This assists the coach in starting a conversation with the employee and reinforces the items that the employee may have shared with the assessment facilitators. Also, the employees completed a release form, which granted permission to the coaches to contact the employees department and training provider as a part of their role in supporting the employee through the program. This form was the basis of what is the project called "the communication triangle."
During this meeting the coaches reviewed the initial contact form and the results of the employee assessments, if the battery of assessments were completed by this time. Sometimes, employees requested an informational meeting with coaches prior to starting the application process. Again, the focus of this meeting was very similar to that of the meeting with the assessment facilitators: building trust, learning more about the employees interest and motivation, and learning about barriers to the employees success. The additional goal of these meetings is developing an educational plan that will help the employees gain the training needed to fill open positions.
There are two categories of employees that the coaches are meeting with at this time: those who have earned scores on the assessments that indicate that they are ready for training, and those who require skills brush-up before starting a training program. Both of these groups will have an educational plan that will follow a timeline and are broken into segments. Some segments that require immediate attention may include: getting the required background educational paperwork in order for the training provider or educational institution; taking short-term skills brush-up courses, such as college readiness or college entrance exam prep courses; or focusing on support services for any non-academic barriers that may impede their success in training. Other segments that are more long-term include: planning out each semester until completion; estimating when they will start to apply for their new job and scheduling a time to review the on-line application process; and future scheduling of resume writing and interviewing workshops.
For those employees ready for training, the coach and the employee would begin to develop an educational plan that will help them acquire the training or education they need to fill the position they are seeking. As the coaches also have responsibilities to facilitating the set-up of the trainings, they have current training information and procedures that has been decided upon by the training institution and the hiring or destination department. Additionally, the grant program process is reviewed so that the employee will know what information they must have prepared, what information they will need to share with their current supervisors, and when they may be needed to attend informational meetings with the hiring department or the training provider. At this time, the coach will also review the service commitment that the employee agrees to adhere to as a result of the support they received through the grant. It is at this time that the employee would sign the service commitment agreement. If an employee was accepted into a training program that wasn't assigned to their original coach the employee had the option of switching coaches.
It is at this time that the realities of what the employees are about to undertake sinks in, and some employees may begin to feel apprehensive. The two main concerns expressed are the length of training and the coursework they will have to take. The coaches' role at this point is to reassure the employees that they can complete the work successfully as long as they are really motivated for this particular position. Also, they encourage the employee to discuss in further depth any barriers that they believe will hamper their success in this endeavor. If employees seem strongly resistant due to the non-academic barriers and concerns they have, the coaches will first begin to explore support services that will help the employee overcome them, and then lay out the educational plan. For those employees who have not earned scores that indicate their readiness for training, the coaches will review skill enhancement services that will bring their scores up. Also, if there are non-academic barriers that are shared, the coaches will explore services that may provide support to the employee.
The most important part of these meetings is developing a rapport with the employee. This rapport is critical to the uncovering of any barriers that may inhibit an employee's success in training and in their new department. Given the grant timeframe coaches must be able to assess the personality of the employee and communicate to them in a manner that fosters trust, yet conveys knowledge and firmness. To achieve this, the coach and the employee may need to have several interactions before the employee is cleared to proceed to the training list. Ultimately, the coaches worked to help the employees empower themselves and to take control of their education and career advancement. This meant helping the employees understand the services that were available to them, both within the institution and outside, and understand the policies that affected their employment.
Depending on the employee and the training program the frequency of the coach/employee interaction varied. For the most part and at minimum, coaches were in contact with employees at least twice a month. Coaches and employees communicated via: telephone, email, or face-to-face meetings. Sometime the coaches went to the employee's work site or the employee visited our office. The topics discussed also varied greatly: anxiety about workload, either in their department or at school; personal issues; additional skill enhancement resources; or questions about registering for future courses and their progress in their educational plan.
It was difficult to contact some employees, mostly those in entry-level positions in General Services and Security, because they were usually not listed in the email system and didn't have a direct work phone number. Also, the nature of their work kept them mobile throughout the institution. In these cases, the coaches would visit these employees at their work site during shift changes. This was also an effective way to meet with these employee's supervisor. Otherwise, attempts were made to reach employees at their home.