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Pinnacle-Winning Program Targets High Unemployment
 

By Kathy Gurchiek  7/11/2011

Reducing their state’s unemployment rate is the goal of the Workforce Readiness Council (WRC), a program established by members of the
Greenville, S.C. chapter of the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM).

The project is one of 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 its Leadership Conference in November 2010.

The WRC came about when the high unemployment rate put an increasing demand on South Carolina’s Employment Security Commission and One Stop Centers. The commission alone saw 600 to 1,000 people per day looking for work, Greenville SHRM (GSHRM) noted in its Pinnacle Award application.

“There was no way they could assist all the people coming through their offices,” it wrote, so the chapter created the WRC.

The WRC was formed to support Personal Pathways to Success, a state initiative established through legislation and designed to provide educational and career planning resources for students. That focus has since expanded to include adult job seekers, employers and educators.

The WRC has become one of the chapter’s most popular committees since its inception in September 2008, said WRC Chair Ginger C. Lawrence, SPHR.

“The prestige of having won the [Pinnacle] Award has helped” generate interest in the program, along with the “huge community support,” she stated.

Making It Happen

When the nearly 300-member chapter formed the WRC, Greenville chapter member Laura S. Harmon said, the goal was to foster collaborative relationships among local government, community organizations, businesses, educators and individuals in upstate South Carolina to build a skilled workforce.

The chapter’s board created the committee that became the WRC, and the chapter’s board appointed co-chairs to run the WRC. The chapter used its Strategic Planning Committee to support the WRC co-chairs. One way it did that was by conducting a focus group meeting with senior HR leaders at large companies in Greenville.

Additionally, the WRC conducted a focus group meeting with representatives from One Stop Centers, the Employment Security Commission, the Literacy Association and Goodwill Industries to learn how the chapter could contribute.

“The biggest moment has been to reach outside of our chapter and know what’s happening in the community and have a good understanding of what the needs are,” Lawrence said.

Hosting focus groups was a big step in that direction. It became clear there was a lack of coordination and collaboration of efforts among the various groups.

“Several organizations were providing services to job seekers, but one organization did not necessarily know what the other organization was providing,” Harmon said during a SHRM webcast about the winning program. She serves on the WRC and is project director of Greenville Works, a partnership of 12 local, state and federal organizations working for a skilled workforce.

The chapter used information gathered during the focus groups to create short- and long-range goals. In 2010 it expanded its WRC goal to include:

  • Establishing partnerships between businesses and education in order to help students develop skills they needed for employment.
  • Strengthen collaboration and coordination among community partners in business and education for a better use of resources.
  • Promote the state program WorkKeys, a certificate program that assesses employees’ and job applicants’ skills in applied math and reading and the ability to locate information.

Chapter members working through the WRC have taught more than 40 weekly two-hour training sessions at One Stop Offices, Goodwill Industries and Greenville Technical College, reaching more than 300 people.

In 2010, they conducted more than 91 mock interviews, reached more than 1,400 students through 87 presentations to middle and high school classes, and taught classes to more than 35 people at the local libraries.

They created a comprehensive WRC guide that targets the needs of teachers, job seekers and employers. And they have promoted information sharing among public and nonprofit community agencies. It includes a tool kit, sample resumes, best practices and online resources.

The WRC hosts meetings regularly for community stakeholders to share information and resources. It was through these meetings that it became clear that there was a need for standardized modules to train people who go to the One Stop Centers, according to the chapter.

Each module includes a PowerPoint presentation, handouts, feedback sheets for students and a certificate of attendance. They cover:

  • Winning behaviors employers seek.
  • Overcoming barriers to employment.
  • Networking techniques.
  • Effective interviewing.
  • Job search strategies.
  • Resume writing.
  • Navigating the job application process.
  • Effective communication.

The chapter has facilitated a training workshop once a week since November 2009, according to Lawrence. Chapter members continue to conduct two to four training workshops a month, but GSHRM is looking for ways to expand facilitators by including local agencies in this role.

“It’s been a really good tool for our community,” Harmon said of WRC, “and a great way for our GSHRM members, whether they sit on the Workforce Readiness Council or not, to give back and get involved by providing their expertise to job seekers.”

She noted that the chapter members’ HR expertise lends credibility to the courses they teach.

“When a job seeker hears [this] from a professional in the field, they’re more likely to take it to heart than perhaps if they hear it from a counselor or a case manager.

Learning that employer use of WorkKeys in Greenville lagged behind other areas in the state, the chapter has made its promotion a priority. Information on it is included in the training modules, at employer meetings the chapter conducts, and through presentations to temp agencies, a legislative caucus and various conferences.

The chapter is committed to continuing its efforts to reduce the state’s unemployment, according to Harmon.

“We haven’t stopped now that we received this award,” she said. “It’s certainly an ongoing effort that’s just continuing to build and benefit more folks.”

Kathy Gurchiek is associate editor for HR News.

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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

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