Josh: A Silver Lining to COVID-19
Along with serious health concerns, the COVID-19 crisis created a disastrous situation for Massachusetts employers and workers alike. And the new uncertainty was especially acute for individuals with disabilities who had been actively seeking jobs though Riverside Employment Collaboratives and our partner workforce development agencies. Finding the right fit for individuals with disabilities with employers who are eager to hire them – companies like CVS, Home Depot, and hundreds of others – is a process that relies heavily upon in-person contact. Traditionally, Riverside employment specialists meet with job-seekers to help them work through the application process, offer interview tips and set up practice sessions, and help organize and manage their work schedules once they land the job.
So what happens when the unfortunate set of circumstances we live and work in today throws this process into turmoil?
Well, as Riverside’s Heather Mantell and Viability’s Liz Billilo learned, where there’s a will – along with a phone and a computer – there’s a way!
While working from home, Liz heard about the perfect job for client Josh at CVS. She contacted Heather Mantell at Riverside, and through our relationship with Jonathan DaSilva, Workforce Initiatives Advisor for CVS Health, and Riverside’s familiarity with their application and assessment process, with just a few adjustments all the pieces quickly came together. Since his interview would now be conducted by phone rather than in person, Liz was able to lead Josh through a practice interview over the phone, which went very well. And with a little help, all of his hiring paperwork was completed and submitted online.
Jonathan has said that, “Riverside and the Regional Employment Collaboratives serve as my chaos management department. From an engagement standpoint and a team impact standpoint it’s a big win for us.”
And a big win for Josh, who is now enjoying his new position as Store Associate at CVS. His manager reports that he is a diligent and helpful employee. Josh has overcome his shyness to the degree that he can successfully work the check-out register – proving himself that, once again, where there’s a will, there’s a way!
Great business relationships lead to door opening opportunities
Bridgewell is a valued Partner agency with The NorthEast Employment Collaborative (NEEC). Bridgewell has maintained a wonderful partnership with The Salvation Army since 2016 when Michael Skoog, The Salvation Army’s Central Mass field representative, came to a NEEC JDN (Business leads and Networking) meeting to discuss The Salvation Army’s annual Bell Ringing campaign.
After learning more about the history of the campaign and the ways in which it helps the community, Bridgewell was eager to get involved. Bridgewell has many job seekers who have a desire to help others and are full of holiday spirit, so this employment opportunity seemed like the perfect match.
The first year we decided to jump right in, and 10 people were able to get a job working in two different locations. This year we are looking forward to our 4th season with The Salvation Army, said Ashley Smallwood of Bridgewell.
Bridgewell will have Bell Ringers at 3 locations in Reading and Stoneham providing employment opportunities to more than 20 job seekers! This opportunity has allowed job seekers to build valuable employment skills while giving back to the community. Positions such as these often serve as the starting point for many individuals who are ready to enter or return to the workforce.
Employer Fulfills Workforce Needs for Busy Season through Creative Collaboration
The Home Depot store in Reading, Mass. is one of the company’s busiest stores. Because of their sales volume, the store has an almost constant demand for associates who are customer-focused and exceptional team members. For years, the NorthEast Employment Collaborative (NEEC) has had a strong partnership with the Associate Support Department Supervisor, Jennifer Strangman. As the store’s Human Resources leader, Jenn is responsible for working throughout the winter to hire and train new associates, setting the store up for success upon the busy spring season.
Throughout the years, NEEC and Home Depot staff have talked about how to maximize the potential of untapped talent in the service delivery area. As a result of a discussion between Jenn, NEEC Employer Liaison Kristianne Widman, and Store Manager Jairo Naranjo, the idea of a seasonal enclave started to take shape. When Jairo transferred to the Methuen store, the possibility could have faded away, but the new Store Manager, Jim Hannon didn’t let it! He and Jenn put it on the priority list. The result was a 4-month seasonal spring enclave of Home Depot Associates.
The group’s focus was “pack down,” which involves working 5 days a week to find what stock needs to be replaced in the core of the store, find where the back stock was located, and bring it to the floor. As Jim indicated upon the start of the project, the store’s ability to have full shelves of the right items in the right place is critical for driving sales goals and customer satisfaction.
NEEC was proud to have 3 agencies working together with NEEC Employer Liaisons to find candidates for the positions. “To have 3 agencies working together was magnificent to watch and be part of,” said Widman. Agencies have historically been competitive in terms of job opportunities, so this was a paradigm shift and truly representative of the Collaborative mission. When the final allocation of budget was known, Home Depot had 6 new associates, supported by an on-site Job Coach.
This effort was truly representative of a successful collaboration between agencies, and the Home Depot team is already considering a winter enclave and plan to have three groups next spring!
Job Developers Collaborate to Develop a Unique and Thriving Partnership with a Local Restaurant
The word collaboration is defined as, "the action of working with someone to produce or create something." This is something that we work towards every day in the Employment Collaboratives. Through the North East Employment Collaborative, we have had the pleasure of seeing this at its finest.
During the lead sharing portion of our job developers' meetings, job developers go around the table and share leads for positions that they have found that they are unable to fill or sustain with their clients. In one of these meetings, we uncovered a lead that we like to call a "bird in the hand." This was a job lead for an enclave that had already been fully developed. This was a gift, not a job lead! The opportunity was with an awesome pizza restaurant in Beverly called Prides Deli & Pizzeria.
The job was created by Bridgewell (a partner agency) and the responsibilities involved shopping at the Restaurant Depot for groceries and then delivering the items to Prides Deli, three days per week. Shortly after a variety of individuals participated in the job assignment, it was clear the environment was too stimulating for the majority of participants involved. It wasn’t due to the complexity of the job tasks, but the sensory overload that caused challenges with the group of individuals. With that in consideration, Marc Jamieson from Bridgewell knew he could share this opportunity with another agency from the Collaborative that may have participants that are not as sensitive to the stimulating environment. As he discussed this opportunity with the group, there was great interest expressed by multiple agencies. Marc met with representatives from those agencies after the meeting to explain the procedure and resources needed. Noah Venuti from American Training, Inc. took advantage of this opportunity and enthusiastically explained that he had the resources and passionate individuals who would excel with this type of job assignment!
This is how it started, from pure collaboration. The transition process took a couple of months to complete; contract proposal reviews, multiple job shadow trainings, and other logistical adjustments needed to be coordinated internally between both agencies involved. Through everyone’s efforts, this opportunity was successfully handed over on May 6th, 2019.
“It’s been great working with Noah from American Training, Inc. during this transition phase. He’s been extremely responsive and instrumental towards the successful hand off of this opportunity. We appreciate Prides Deli owner Mike Magner for welcoming this change and giving other individuals with disabilities the chance to work as well!” stated Jamieson from Bridgewell.
So the next time you are in Beverly, please stop by Prides Deli & Pizzeria, as they are a wonderful establishment that has given individuals served by our programs a unique opportunity to work and flourish!
Through the CVS Health Training Program, Sarah Advances her Job Skills and Social Skills to Work Independently in a Community Setting
Sarah was our partner Minute Man Arc's first participant in the CVS Health Abilities and Abundance Program provided through the NorthEast Employment Collaborative. Sarah enjoyed all components of the 10-week program, and found the Soft Skills Workshop most useful as it provided instructional knowledge pertaining to customer interaction.
Through the program, Sarah learned how to network and furthered her interviewing skills tenfold. Sarah’s favorite part about the 40-hour internship at CVS was being a part of a team and learning the entire task key experience guide. Her favorite job task was returning items to the shelves, and her most-liked experience was going to the CVS Health Learning Center in Boston and participating in cashier training.
The CVS Health Abilities and Abundance program was an excellent way for Sarah to further advance both her work skills and social skills in order to work independently in a community setting. This program pushed Sarah to be her best self. She even picked up evening hours, which previously had not been possible. All in all, Sarah is grateful she had the opportunity to participate in the program, and is excited to apply all she’s learned to her new part-time position at the CVS store in Acton MA.