Drive-bys: SER’s Road Trip Job Placement Strategy

By Lorne C. Green, Manager of Healthcare Workforce Programs, Central States SER

In the Little Village community of Chicago, as well as the surrounding communities of North Lawndale, East Garfield Park, and Pilsen, drive-bys are rarely thought of as something positive.  Yet the job developers of Central States SER’s Healthcare Bridge Program have reinvented the term as they fill vacant certified nursing assistant (CNA) positions at many of the nursing homes and hospitals in Chicago and its suburbs.

Central States SER-Jobs for Progress was founded in 1970 with the goal of expanding career opportunities for the Hispanic community in Chicago.  Over the past decade the number of participants served has grown considerably, from 500 participants in 2002 to more than 10,000 in 2012.  SER’s 115 full-time employees work with a wide range of participants, from former gang-affiliated youth to senior citizens, who are looking to reenter the workforce by gaining skills for careers in health care, transportation, manufacturing, and many other fields.

Along with Daley College, one of the City Colleges of Chicago, Central States SER launched its CNA training program in 2007.  The program was started with the aim of helping low-skilled, low-income adults gain access to training that leads to viable health care careers and helping local health care employers find quality staff.

Central States SER’s Healthcare Bridge Program is the cornerstone of its programmatic work in these communities and, in partnership with Daley College, the program has helped nearly 150 individuals successfully complete a contextualized literacy and numeracy program.  Since 2007, these certifications opened the door for graduates to gain admission to a health care–focused occupational training program at one of the City Colleges of Chicago or Triton College and, ultimately, find employment at a health care facility.

While Central States SER and its partners were highly successful in training and graduating participants from the CNA program, they still had little success with job placement for some of their students.  Despite professional development workshops that included job search techniques, résumé writing, mock interviewing, and providing targeted job leads, many graduates still were not being hired.  This high number of unemployed graduates spurred Central States SER to gather labor market information, specifically from the Illinois Department of Employment Security, to check whether CNAs were still in demand.  Yet according to the data, there will be a 20.95% increase in demand for nursing aides, orderlies, and attendants between 2008 and 2018. Central States SER and its partners were confounded as to why participants were not getting hired.

SER decided to perform an in-depth evaluation of their program to identify where they might have been falling short.  A thorough review of case notes revealed that participants were not being proactive about their own job search:  they skipped job club meetings, did not respond to job leads, and constantly missed job interviews and appointments with their job developers.  Moreover, participants were actually scared of entering the job market.  To combat this fear, one of SER’s job developers had an idea:  not only did she take a few participants with her directly to potential employers, but she also arranged on-site interviews for each participant.  A few days later, all but one were hired.  Thus was born the concept of the “drive-by” at Central States SER.

Key to the drive-by strategy is the identification of employers that are hiring in communities near where participants live.  Job developers then arrange for health care program participants to travel together to potential employers for interviews, which gives them the opportunity to collectively prepare, share interview techniques, and encourage each other before their arrival.

The strategy has proven itself as a best practice when dealing with the hard-to-place, the not-so-motivated, or just plain nervous participants who need a little encouragement, team support, or nudging along the way.  The results speak for themselves:  on average, two out of every three “road trippers” are hired during their first drive-by.  Ultimately, what this experience taught Central State SER and its partners was that fully examining its challenges and engaging all staff will lead to innovative, successful solutions.

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