Helping women in San Juan County, N.M., become gainfully employed after spending time behind bars for methamphetamine use is the aim of a project by the Four Corners Human Resource Association (FCHRA), a chapter of the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM).
The project was one of nine (created by two state councils and seven U.S. chapters) to win the coveted 2010 Pinnacle Award, a national competition that SHRM and ADP sponsor annually. SHRM announced the winners during the Leadership Conference in November 2010.
“Meth [use] has continued to be a scourge that we as HR professionals have had to deal with,” Julie Rasor, SPHR, told SHRM Online. Rasor is HR director for the City of Bloomfield, N.M., and FCHRA president.
“It’s going to impact our employees, and consequently you’ve got absenteeism, drug-dependent issues, you’ve got [job] candidates who cannot pass a [drug] screen,” she said. “In addition, some employees may have dependents who have drug issues.”
The project, begun in 2008, was a response to widespread use of meth within San Juan County. In 2008, 93 percent of illegal drugs seized there were methamphetamines, and many of the offenders arrested were women, according to the chapter. Those found guilty for possession are mandated to participate in the Methamphetamine Pilot Project (MPP).
MPP is a 60-day, court-appointed treatment program that is considered a potential model for national use, according to Rasor. MPP strategies include individual and group therapy, a 12-step program, education, the Community Reinforcement Approach and Job Club.
The chapter’s program—which has been incorporated into MPP—provides work-readiness training, explains the hiring process, provides resume and mock interview critiques, and guides MPP clients in finding suitable employment once they have graduated from MPP.
Creating the Program
The chapter’s membership includes a past president who is HR director of San Juan County, a board member who serves as the one-stop site manager of the New Mexico Workforce Connection, and others who work for the county and the three cities that the county encompasses.
Aware that the MPP was being created, the then 38-member chapter “recognized this would be a good community outreach program,” Rasor said.
The FCHRA board met with the one-stop site manager and the MPP clinical director to talk about the role the chapter could play. The result was an initiative created around the eight-week MPP:
First Session, Week 2: FCHRA volunteers and a Workforce Connection representative meet with the clients and MPP staff members. Clients share work and education background and their goals upon their release. Volunteers and Workforce Connection staff talk about community skill needs and jobs, legal issues, and distribute SHRM interview handouts.
Clients are then asked to prepare a resume for the next session. MPP staff assist the women, using a template that FCHRA and one-stop center staff designed. The resume will be used later to apply for an existing job in the area.
Second Session, Week 5 or 6: FCHRA volunteers sit on a mock interview panel with each client, concluding with an oral and written critique of the resume and interview.
During this session, volunteers help open the eyes of the women to jobs beyond the local convenience store, Rasor said. She recalled volunteers suggesting that one client, who enjoyed cake decorating, pursue an opening at a local bakery.
Others have pointed clients who are Native Americans to TurboCare Generator Services, which is based on the East Coast but employs hundreds of people in San Juan County. It has a preference for Native Americans, Rasor said, because of hand and finger dexterity developed through years of weaving.
In addition, some chapter members’ employers have hired MPP graduates.
Following the critiques, the women meet as a group with chapter volunteers to discuss the experience and general employment issues such as illegal interview questions, the Work Opportunity Tax Credit Program, employment rights, and how to address questions about a felony conviction.
Third Session, Week 7 or 8: FCHRA volunteers focus on clients’ plans after their release from jail, and point them to resources, including Workforce Connection. It is at this point clients are urged to complete their GED or any other training or education, including earning a WorkKeys Career Readiness Certificate, Rasor said.
Week 9: FCHRA Volunteers Attend MPP Graduation. Clients are held accountable to meet the terms of MPP participation. They are dropped from MPP if they do not meet its conditions and must appear before a judge to explain themselves, Rasor said.
There have been 92 MPP graduates since 2008; among the last 10 classes of clients, 27 women landed a job, 16 have used Workforce Connection and 11 completed a GED class, and 1 graduated with a GED, according to figures the chapter received from the MPP.
The lesson is that a small chapter can pull off a program that makes a big impact, Rasor said, noting that 44 percent of the members have participated. Having a chapter member serve as program coordinator also is critical to success, she added, pointing to a chapter member in this role who works for the county and has sat on the FCHRA board since it initiated the program.
Volunteers are encouraged to give seven to 10 hours of their time over 60 days and attend client graduations. Participation is voluntary, but there is “an unwritten expectation that the board members actively participate,” Rasor said.
There was no cost to create the program, for which it took about six months for the chapter to create a model it found workable. The key, she said, “is to partner with the right people.”
“This is a full lesson in collaboration,” something their area is known for, she proudly noted. “You get together and solve [problems] together.”
The program has raised the chapter’s profile in the community, according to Rasor.
“The staff at MPP has been excellent in recognizing our participation,” she said. “It’s really highlighted that we’re not just an organization that deals only with our organization, but that we’re willing to take on community issues and [are] trying to make a difference.”
Kathy Gurchiek is associate editor for HR News.
Florida Chapter Creates Award-Winning College Certificate Program, HR News, June 2011
Generational Poverty Focus of Chapter’s Project, HR News, June 2011
Chapter's Response to Fatal Shootings Earns Pinnacle Award, HR News, May 2011
In Wisconsin, One Day Makes a Difference in Lives of Others, HR News, May 2011
SHRM Indiana State Council Works to Reduce Child Hunger, HR News, April 2011
SHRM Chapter Matches NYC Nonprofits with HR Volunteers, HR News, April 2011