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5. Pre-Training Activities
- Skills enhancement
- Open houses
- Salary release & backfill
- College readiness & academic success
In order to provide the support services for skills development programs (PLATO, and School-at-Work) the office extended its hours: Monday through Thursday 8:30 a.m. to 7 p.m., and Saturdays 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. The Skills Enhancement Program already offered courses throughout the day and evening.
Originally, the project committed to serving 400 employees. However, once employees were assessed it was discovered that many required skills enhancement before entering training. We found that although employees may have a high school diploma or a couple of years of college education, their educational experience took place so long ago that their basic skills would not ensure their success in the training. Therefore, once the employees were assessed and skill development was determined as an immediate path for them they were referred to the institution's Skills Enhancement Program. The Skills Enhancement Program offered the following courses: math & reading booster classes, college prep or Accuplacer (college entrance exam) classes, tutorials, computer classes, and medical terminology classes.
PLATO provided all of the high school subject materials online. Employees took an online placement exam, which would determine the modules they needed to work on to bring their skill level up to a training appropriate level. Most employees took the reading or math modules. Employees were advised of PLATO when their assessment results indicated a need to develop their basic reading or math skills. It is recommended that employees who are motivated to work on their own time and have a comfort level with using computers be directed to this type of skill enhancement. The project did have employees who wanted to use this software even though they did not have strong computer skills. Fortunately, PLATO is a user-friendly application, and those employees who wanted to use it even though they didn't have strong computer skills learned how to use the application, developing their computer skills and their basic skills at the same time.
Some of the employees were interested in clinical positions and needed to prepare for the classes they would have to take in college. Almost every clinical college based training required Anatomy & Physiology and Medical Terminology. We arranged with School-at-Work to modify their program to allow us access only to those two modules, and required that those employees who were pursuing trainings for clinical positions take those two online prep courses. We also purchased extra diskettes of those curriculums and made them available to employees when they wanted to work on their skills.
Once a listing of interested employees ready for training for a specific position was established. The project arranged with the department a series of informational meetings because many employees had limited knowledge about the new department and position. These meetings are instrumental in providing information about the department and the position they employee expressed an interest in filling. First, the employees were required to attend an open house hosted by the destination/hiring department. The employees took a tour of the department, and departmental managers, supervisors, and current department employees filling the interested position presented information about how their department operates, and the requirements of the position. Also, it was at this time that the department interviewed the employee, and for some positions Career Services administered screening tests. Lastly, employees spent half a day shadowing a current employee in the position they are seeking to fill. After these sessions the department provided the project with the names of individuals they think would be successful in training and in the job. This worked very well because this in depth exposure to the department provided the employees with a realistic first-hand view of the position they are interested in, and if they learned something that they didn’t realize or like they often deselected themselves from the training.
A crucial component of this project and its success was the salary release feature. It is very difficult for individuals to pursue training programs while working full-time. Employees received 16 hours/week of paid time away from work to attend classes, which was paid by the grant. This was a career acceleration program so the time paid time away from work was mandatory. Once an employee has been accepted into a training program, a salary release letter is sent to their manager indicating the training, training duration, and the account number that the 16 hours of salary release should be charged to each week.
When the project began manual timesheets were used to record employees work hours by each department. This required that the project provide the departments with the grant account number where the 16 hours of salary release should be charged. This system then became computerized, but we did not have the capability of recording the salary release for all of the participants in the program. Providing the account number to the departments did present extra work because sometimes employees who were not in the program were erroneously charged to the grant, and it took administrative time to resolve the charges. It was stated by some of the larger departments that they needed someone to solely focus on the salary release portion of their payroll.
This feature did present a challenge for departments however because they needed to continue to function. The 16 hours of salary paid for by the grant provided the department with funds that they could use for backfill or overtime. Departments who needed a backfill person were instructed to contact the institution's staffing agency, Intrastaff. This agency then forwarded an assignment request form to that department and then began to recruit someone to fill that request. This agency developed working relationships with a few staffing agencies in the city to aid in this recruitment process. Also, the project worked with the Mayor's Office of Employment Development to secure the entry-level replacement to fill some of the 16 hour a week gap left by the employee in training. This task was sometimes hard to fulfill as some individuals wanted more than just a 16 hour work week. Therefore, careful coordination was required to conduct the backfill process. If a department had more than one person in their area taking courses, they were sometimes able to re-work their schedules to provide a 32 hour per week opportunity for backfill. This coupled with overtime enabled departments to operate as usual. Again, it did require quite a bit of coordination and creative thinking. It is the project's recommendation to work with the departments very early to find out who they would be willing to support in a program of this nature so they can start rearranging schedules early.
Salary release for Howard County General Hospital was arranged differently because they did not have the electronic timekeeping system that the other affiliates used. Therefore, the Howard County General Hospital departments paid for their employees fully, and the grant reimbursed the department at the end of each semester.
Some of the employees who were ready for training had not been in school for many years. It was learned that taking a full load of courses (even with the two day salary release) and working 24 hours a week in their departments was quite a challenge. The program developed a workshop on college readiness and academic success to address the issues that those returning to the classroom would face. This workshop provided an orientation to college work as well as tips that would help employees be successful in class and at work.