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One workforce strategy: EmployIndy’s community-based career navigators

By Lynn Sygiel, editor, Charitable Advisors

Visit WorkOne Indy’s new location and learn about its services.

Attend the family-friendly open house on June 15 from 11:00 a.m. and 1:00 p.m. to check out the new facility and learn more about EmployIndy services. Bring your resume because there is a job fair during the event.

The address is: 4410 N. Shadeland Ave. (the former Carpe Diem charter school).

When Delores Mockabee found herself without a job four years ago, her emotions ran high. At times she felt hopeless and helpless, after her job was eliminated. That is until she spent time at the WorkOne office on Indianapolis’ westside. Each time she visited the office, she was greeted by passionate, caring and supportive employees.

Fast forward. Now, she is on the other side of the table. After taking advantage of WorkOne’s services, she landed a job with ResCare, a subcontractor for EmployIndy. She now pays it forward as a career navigator.

“Depending on the level of job you had, it is hard because it is like, ‘What are people going to think,’” said Mockabee. “It is a passion for me to be able to give what I got when I came to WorkOne.” Indiana’s network of American Job Centers is branded WorkOne.

In her daily work, she is one of 11 navigators who splits time at 19 satellite locations in Indianapolis. This position is designed to help connect the agency with people where they live. The navigators’ home base is WorkOne Indy, a full-service center that opened in January. Each has established a schedule to provide satellite personnel and clients with consistency. Mockabee’s sites are the Garfield Park, East Washington and Central libraries. While there, she works in the computer area and uses a large portable sign to identify the agency and its services.

“It’s been enlightening for me. Every library has a different culture. You have to figure out how you fit in, how you support and how you encourage. A lot of people who come here would not go to the eastside. Here, we’re able to offer services, and people are starting to know that we’re here and we’re available. I had a lady who came three times when I was here to help with her resume because she was computer illiterate.” Mockabee has also supported a pharmacist and a chemist, helping them develop individualized plans and utilize available resources.

Her first client created dental molds, but she was replaced with a machine. Mockabee said, she began with an Indiana Career Explorer assessment to identify her client’s strengthens, which is particularly helpful if people don’t know what to do next.

A navigator’s responsibilities don’t end after a client secures a job. There is a regular check in with the client for 90 days. Once the individual reaches that milestone, the case is transferred to another WorkOne staff person who continues the connection for a year.

Mockabee shared a story about one young man who completed the Commercial Driver Training, CDL certification. After a short time in the new job, he called her to say that he didn’t know if he could continue the travel to small towns. After reassuring him that they could find him another job, two days later he wrote: ‘I love my job, I make more money in one week than I make in a month.’ So, it really changed his life.

“We do support and help people. First thing is to get a job, then get a better job and then ultimately a career. Most exciting for me is working with people who end up in a career. This starts their future all over,” she said. And hers, too.

Besides partnering with libraries, EmployIndy has added sites at adult education centers sites in Warren, Washington and Wayne townships. CAFÉ on the city’s far eastside and Ivy Tech are other partner sites.

“These are potential clients. We want to be right there to catch them and help them with whatever else they need or help move them on to the next step of a career,” said Joe Backe, EmployIndy’s communication manager.

According to Backe, working in libraries has allowed the agency to not only expand its footprint, but removed some barriers. At the Shadeland WorkOne full-service center, for example, no one under the age of 16 is permitted in the building. That precludes people from bringing their children. But at a library, children can look at books, while mom or dad connects to services. At the WorkOne center, people can also be pointed toward a satellite location, which might be more convenient.

Those services can range from career development, to job searches, to skills development.

Although EmployIndy has been around since the 1960s in some form, and the Indianapolis mayor is responsible for appointing the members of the board. The board — with input from community stakeholders, residents, and EmployIndy partners, including the mayor’s office — is responsible for the strategic direction of EmployIndy. As part of the mayor’s initiative, the agency is working to be more neighborhood focused and target specific areas where unemployment, crime and poverty are higher, and residents may have given up hope of entering or re-entering the workforce.

Chief Operations Officer Marie Mackintosh joined EmployIndy three years ago, and was part of the team that designed the strategic plan to support the mayor’s initiative. She views the agency’s role as ensuring that residents are ready for the jobs and careers that employers bring into the community. One of the plan’s tactics was creation of the career navigator positions.

“People are not widgets, they are complex human beings. When you think about the fact that we’re asking our navigators to help those complex human beings who have so many different assets and strengths, but also potential barriers. Think about how much finessing that requires and the complexity of that,” she said.

Mackintosh said that another strategy was to consolidate the three centers located around the city into one full-service center. Housed in the former Carpe Diem charter school building on the eastside, the building can accommodate a weekly job fair for up to 20 companies, offer workshops and training and provide multiple services. An open house on June 15 will showcase the center’s services. It’s a family-friendly event, so kids under 16 may attend.  

Since the full-service center opened at the beginning of the year, another benefit has been an uptick in the number of people coming to the office monthly, which averages around 2,500 people.

Mockabee believes that bringing everyone under one roof has been good, and is a more efficient way to work. Part of a navigator’s job is to keep abreast of community resources that can be shared with clients. To facilitate that EmployIndy regularly communicates with other workforce development partners.

“We have monthly eco-system enrichment meetings where we bring together WorkOne staff and a growing number of neighborhood partner staff who are doing this coaching work on the frontlines. We talk about things like Gateway to Work, which is the new program coming out of the Family Social Services Administration in July. Individuals will be required to do more work-search requirements in order to keep Medicaid benefits. We want to make sure that we as a community don’t let anyone who is on Medicaid, drop off just because they didn’t work with a partner organization like ours to stay on,” said Mackintosh.  

EmployIndy’s graphic is a visual representation of organizations involved in the Marion County Workforce Ecosystem.

With unemployment low, one of the challenges for EmployIndy is that state and federal governments have been reduced. This year, the agency will face an 11 percent cut, however, what hasn’t changed is the need to retrain and develop skills of workers for this century.

“I try really hard to advocate for smarter, more efficient ways that we can try to help people that maybe don’t cost as much, but that are cool ways that we can connect individuals to ways to up skills,” said Mackintosh.

“What we’re trying to do is figure out how we work within the existing landscape of neighborhood organizations and offer our additional resources where it makes sense and isn’t duplicitous. So Delores might go to a library because Mary Rigg Neighborhood Center or Boner Center is down the street and they already do similar types of services through their Center for Working Families model.

“While they offer basic employment services, they may not offer a particular workshop. So, we would bring that workshop to the neighborhood or to other neighborhoods that maybe aren’t as aware of the things we do. We’re really trying to build that system and be hyper aware of the other organizations that exist in a particular neighborhood that we might be able to have some sort of a relationship. The question we ask is: How do we augment and work in a symbiotic way rather than a competitive way?” Mackintosh said.

One way is through workshops offered in tandem with partners. Rick Hightower, a career facilitator for ResCare, recently offered a 90-minute session at Fathers and Families Center for WorkOne. Males in the program are exposed to between 20 and 25 hours of workforce development workshops. That day the five males were exposed to the importance of networking, resume building and a variety of websites to look for jobs. Hightower’s rapid-based session provided the participants web-based sources of free tools. One, a job-scan website, matched a resume to a company’s job description. WorkOne also publishes a monthly learning events calendar, which lists as many as nine different trainings or meet-ups daily.

With Indiana investment in workforce development through its Workforce Ready Grants, career navigators can direct clients to some of the state’s most in-demand professions. Educating the community about Next Level Jobs Workforce Ready Grants, specifically that people in their targeted neighborhoods, is part of their work.

Mackintosh credits Gov. Holcomb’s administration for its pillar of workforce education and the governor’s workforce cabinet.

“It combines the efforts of the Commission for Higher Education, the Department of Workforce Development, business people and others to discuss some of these tough issues you’re talking about.

“In the last legislative session, they increased the funding for Workforce Ready Grants, which are state training dollars for people who don’t have a college degree to be able to reskill and the state will pay for it. It could be short-term certifications. They have to be in higher demand industries, so it’s advanced manufacturing, transportation and logistics, IT and business, health and life sciences and building and construction.”

“People are on this whole continuum of readiness for employment today. The plant workers who have been dislocated over the last couple of years, whether at Carrier or someplace else, what they have going for them is an incredible work history and ethic. I personally have great faith the average American worker could reskill and find better opportunities in this economy even today, if they can wrap their mind around that reality after they’ve grieved that the job they had for decades is lost.  But if we compare that to an individual who is maybe 19 years old, who comes from multi-generational poverty, who didn’t finish high school and doesn’t have the basic skills or role models to be able to hold down a job, that’s a very different sets of issues that we’re dealing with,” said Mackintosh.

One new opportunity allows career navigators to recommend individuals who they believe are ready for a better job.

“We have a team of business recruiters here on site at EmployIndy who receive all those referrals and look at the skill set of the individuals that are being referred and try to connect them to our employer partners. Whomever is serving in the capacity of that career navigator has the professional authority to say, ‘You know this person is really ready for an opportunity in logistics or an opportunity in technology or advanced manufacturing, here are the reasons why I think they’d be a great fit.’

“Every single person who is turned over to our recruiting team receives a phone interview, and then based on how that goes, we provide feedback to the navigators. We call all that work our referral portal, but it’s very clear what we’re trying to do, and I think that’s really special and still in its infancy.

Mackintosh said it’s modeled on a Goodwill of Central and Southern Indiana practice to talent source.

“What employers want the most is strategies for how to get their talent pipeline sorted. They appreciate the work of EmployIndy’s career navigators and they are looking for us to do even more,” she said.

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