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By Dr. Sean Siebert, creator, Adopt an Innovator Program and member of the Missouri Enterprise Board of Directors

Workforce, workforce, workforce. Society’s migraine? Workforce. Where can we find people, good people, qualified people, reliable people for our jobs? Unfortunately, as a country, our workforce issues have been nearly forty years in the making. From a community perspective, to think that this matter can be resolved within ninety days is simply not rational. But, I do believe it can be addressed and show substantial progress within the next three years. To do this, we have to think differently. As I am quick to tell people, “Our processes are not organic. Getting the right people, with the right skills and education, in the right jobs, is strategic, not organic.”

 

If a company within your community states that they need one hundred fifty people. Guess what? That means that they need one hundred fifty REAL people. It’s not like a ‘herd’ will suddenly emerge and we all go, “Oh, there they are. We’re all good now. Thanks!” Your need for good people is very real. And if you need one hundred fifty people, then you have to find one hundred fifty people, one person at-a-time. Whether you need one person, or five or twenty, the same principal applies, one person at a time. That’s how you begin to solve the workforce issue in your community, and to start, you need to improve how well you know the people in your community. And by people, I mean all of them. Every person, at every level. By opening your eyes to outside the box concepts, seeing a broader picture, you’ll create the deepest pool possible for your potential workforce.

This ideology and framework afforded me the opportunity to have multiple conversations throughout the County of Crawford and the Meramec Region about the transitional workforce within the area. Specifically: Who are they? Where are they? And how can we re-introduce them to the workforce? During these discussions, residents (inmates) of jail and prison facilities were discussed on multiple occasions. The idea was brought up to have these individuals take the ACT WorkKeys assessment, so they might attain a National Career Readiness Certificate® (NCRC®). To earn NCRC® certification, an individual must successfully complete the WorkKeys assessments in Applied Math, Graphic Literacy and Workplace Documents.

Then, the idea surfaced. What if instead of testing them only, we took the time to encourage them? I asked, “What if they took one of my programs, and as a component of the program, they take the WorkKeys assessment?” My programs have a proven track record helping people to find a new career, to start a new company, to expand an existing business, to perform better at their current position, to problem-solve current organizational issues, to create more personal income, and to find a better place in life. “Let’s try it in this setting,” I suggested. And, so we did.
In conjunction with multiple partners at the city, county, regional, state, and federal levels, the Crawford County Sheriff, the Meramec Regional Planning Commission, and I piloted the program, Rehabilitation through Innovation. The pilot was introduced to selected inmates at the Crawford County jail, and the results to date have been quite impressive.

In the original group, seventeen individuals took the WorkKeys assessment, and a success rate of over 82% was achieved. Fourteen of the seventeen individuals achieved the National Career Readiness Certificate. Nine individuals achieved a certificate at the Silver level, five individuals achieved at the Bronze level, and three individuals did not achieve a certificate. Of those three, two of the individuals worked very hard, but they simply weren’t able to achieve the certificate on their first attempt (literacy challenges). And sadly, one participant simply didn’t buy in and put forth the effort. He self-admitted this.

As we progressed through and added participants to the program many amazing things happened. But one positive effect in particular stood out and caught the attention of literally everyone in the jail. It became obvious that female participants grabbed hold of this program from the outset and were immediately engaged. From the beginning, there were thirteen female residents who participated in the program. This wasn’t the entirety of the female residents in this particular “pod” in the Crawford County Jail; several individuals were not selected to be a part of the program.

But as it turned out, those who were not selected actually did end up being a part of the program, albeit indirectly. You see, I wasn’t the one teaching those outside the group. Their cellmates were the ones doing the teaching! Each week after the program conducted by myself and the Sheriff, the female participants would take the information back to the larger pod and teach the other residents exactly what they were taught. Rapidly, the entire culture within their pod changed, and dramatically, it happened almost overnight. Disciplinary issues within the pod became virtually non-existent. And then they began cleaning. They cleaned and cleaned until the pod became cleaner than it had ever been. By themselves, through self-choice and collaboration, they improved their own overall quality of life. The program seems to have touched some innate desire for personal improvement within these people. It touched their inner need to feel of value, to contribute positively to the group, to be part of something beyond their own needs of self-preservation. The force that resides somewhere within most people, a need to be a positive, contributing part of the society they live in, was stirred up with a vengeance. The positive impact that permeated the pod was dramatic.

After witnessing this, the decision was made to extend the program and include the 19 individuals that were taught by their cellmates. These people were approached and asked if they were interested in taking the WorkKeys assessment as well. 100%, all nineteen individuals immediately agreed and were eager to take the assessment. Within this group, sixteen of the nineteen individuals achieved the National Career Readiness Certificate. Thirteen individuals achieved a certificate at the Silver level, three individuals achieved a certificate at the Bronze level, and three individuals did not achieve a certificate. Of the three that did not achieve a certificate, each had worked very hard, but they simply weren’t able to achieve the certificate on this attempt.

In summation, thirty-six total assessments were given, and thirty individuals received a certificate (83.3%!). Further, twenty-two of the thirty participants received a certificate at the Silver level. On another important note, due in large part to the success of the program, the County of Crawford, Missouri, reached the 100% goal to be a Certified Work Ready Community. What’s even more satisfying is that many of the program participants are now back with their once-estranged families, and perhaps of greatest importance to employers in our community, many are now working, helping companies fill critical positions, becoming a productive part of the workforce.

Immediately after the conclusion of the pilot Rehabilitation through Innovation program, the Missouri Job Center servicing the County of Crawford expanded their area hours of operation. Crawford County has since seen employment barriers lifted and re-considered stereotypes to positive effect. People have been reaching out to the Missouri Job Center and to me personally, individuals that have battled addiction, or have a criminal background, are looking for guidance on a new and more opportunistic future. Currently, I average a couple of meetings or conversations with individuals like this each week, sometimes more, and I’m delighted that I don’t see any signs of this trend ending.

Who can sing the praises of the Rehabilitation through Innovation program better than me, other than the actual participants themselves? I leave you with some comments offered by a few of the program’s participants, expressing in their own words the positive impact the Rehabilitation through Innovation program has had on their attitudes, and on their lives. I encourage all employers to reconsider stereotypes that have been limiting their available workforce pools, and realize that the workforce answers they are seeking may be right there in front of them, if only they could see them. You just might be surprised at how the right opportunities in life, and the encouragement to succeed, can make all the difference in peoples’ decisions to become a positive, vital part of the workforce. These people could become great employees who are an important part of your workforce, but it’s up to you to break through the stereotypes and give them the chance they need to succeed.

Comments from participants in the Rehabilitation through Innovation program:

“My thoughts on this class…it’s very eye opening, it showed me that I can do anything I want to do. The only thing stopping me is me. This was a wonderful experience, I enjoyed every bit of it. I now want, and know, that I can change for the good things in life. It showed me my worth is more than I thought, it showed me that I’m actually something in this world. I realize I’m better than having drugs run my life. I CAN NOW RUN MY LIFE!!!”

“I feel like this experience is what I needed in my life in order to move onto my next step. I felt that because of my actions in the past with drugs and my behaviors that nothing good will ever become of my life so I felt stuck in my old ways. This class somehow changed that. I feel that I can find that light at the end of the tunnel and finally one day be at peace, even with myself. I can live a normal and happy life sober.”

“I didn’t care before, when I was getting high before. But, being sober now, and getting to see a different side, I care now. I feel like for all the times that people told or asked me to listen before, and I didn’t. I want to listen now. They say listening leads to wisdom and I want to look forward to that. Having something, or everything, to look forward to in life. There is so much more now. Who I am tomorrow wants to be better than who I was yesterday, I see that now. Thank you.”