Welfare-to-Work Program Benefits from HR Professionals

By Kathy Gurchiek May 21, 2010

Rosanne Roberts routinely drove more than two hours round trip from her home in Santa Fe, N.M. to Albuquerque to conduct mock job interviews with women transitioning from welfare to the workforce.

She was one of more than 53 volunteersdonating their time through the Human Resource Management Association of New Mexico (HRMA), a Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) chapter, to help clients of TeamWorks become job ready.

TeamWorks is a government-funded program ​under the New Mexico Commission on the Status of Women. TeamWorks serves single-parent women who are heads of households and who are eligible to receive assistance from the state’s Temporary Aid to Needy Families program.

Clients attend a seven-week program to learn such things as how to complete job applications, write cover letters, and dress for and conduct themselves in interviews. Eight to 10 women per month graduate from the course.

Roberts conducted individual mock job interviews with four or five women every other month for 18 months.

“I saw a good majority of them kind of hanging their heads” at the start of the 30-minute interview, typically not recognizing personal achievements such as supervising the night shift at a convenience store, Roberts said.

Often by interview’s end, Roberts saw the glimmer of a transformation among the 20-something women who, she said, had gotten off to a bad start in life.

Roberts has since moved two hours away from Albuquerque, preventing her from continuing her volunteer work with a program she found rewarding personally and professionally.

“For an HR person, you talk about what skills you want to use in volunteering: This is our gift,” said the business owner who has worked as a recruiter since 1982 and as a trainer and workplace skills coach since 1991.

“We can help people get jobs. This is why I believe so much in this kind of thing.”

‘Opportunity Waiting to Happen’

HRMA’s involvement with TeamWorks reflects a goal of HRMA’s 2008 board for the chapter to become more involved in local workforce development, said Denise Montoya, SPHR. Montoya is the HRMA president-elect and college relations director for the SHRM New Mexico State Council. She is employed as the HR consulting and staff employment director for the University of New Mexico.

The 2008 Leadership Albuquerque class—a Chamber of Commerce group of aspiring leaders—approached the HRMA board about partnering with it to teach TeamWorks clients workforce readiness skills. The chapter’s president-elect, Patty Longdon, PHR, met with TeamWorks’ director, employment liaison and instructors to map out the chapter’s role.

Board members piloted the chapter initiative in March 2008. They designed and taught 90-minute training courses—based on the TeamWorks curriculum—on resume-writing and interview skills and created a guide to use in mock interviews.

By May 2008 the board opened the program to the rest of the members, who may volunteer several times a month in the TeamWorks classrooms.

“It was an opportunity waiting to happen,” Montoya said. The project resonates with HRMA members because “it speaks to the profession of HR,” she said. “Giving back to women, helping to prepare people for the workforce,” is something HR “is passionate about” and believes in.

By the end of summer 2008, HRMA’s board agreed to continue its involvement and expand its role. In 2009 it established a board position—vice president of community relations—that Montoya filled initially. In it, she recruited more monthly volunteers, set up electronic communication tools to coordinate volunteers, developed marketing materials, established metrics and created a formal two-week unpaid internship program for graduating participants.

One woman's internship at Sysco New Mexico LLC—where Longdon is senior director of HR—led to a full-time job there as mailroom clerk/receptionist in 2009. She later was promoted to accounts payable clerk.​

“These women were exposed to skills, talent and expertise of the many HR professionals” who volunteered with the program, Longdon said in a SHRM webinar series about the program. The internship, she added, allows them “to gain some real-world job insight and experience.”

HRMA won a SHRM Pinnacle Award in November 2009 for its work.​

“This program not only makes a difference in our local community but also serves as HR examples for organizations around the country,” Longdon told members in the chapter’s November 2009 newsletter in announcing the win.

Impressed with HRMA’s involvement with TeamWorks, Goodwill Industries and the New Mexico Department of Workforce Solutions approached the chapter in fall 2009 and asked it to supply similar training for returning veterans re-entering the workforce in the greater Albuquerque area.

The Job Club launched in November 2009. Additionally, HRMA plans to continue its involvement with TeamWorks and has provided it with letters of support as the program faces an uncertain future in a tough economy, Montoya said.

Replicating the Program

Montoya advises other chapters looking to initiate a similar project to practice process improvement.

“Review materials so [they’re] fresh,” she said, whether updating course materials or using new technology to make it easier to collect metrics or communicate with volunteers. “Every year you have to take a fresh perspective.”

Cost is minimal for the chapter, she said, because the chapter-created class materials are HRMA-branded PowerPoint presentations and a booklet with questions and feedback guidelines to use in mock interviews.

“The key to minimizing the cost is automation,” Montoya said. She emphasized the importance of giving volunteers notice to allow adequate preparation time. Volunteers commit to about 2.5 hours per month; that includes a minimum of one-hour round-trip travel to class and 90 minutes teaching a class or conducting mock interviews.

HRMA volunteers donated 237 hours, including travel time, from May 2008 through August 2008. That volunteer time is valued at more than $4,800, according to the chapter, which based the figure on the Independent Sector Research’s estimate of the then-dollar value of a volunteer’s time in New Mexico.

“It’s an opportunity for everyone involved to win,” Montoya said. “TeamWorks gets free trainers—experts in their field—to help develop these women. The volunteers get personal satisfaction; they get the opportunity to give back to their local community. The participants get the expertise of HR professionals.

“Everybody wins. It’s great exposure for the HR organization. It’s great marketing for everybody involved,” she added. “There’s a lot of opportunity for everybody to … gain something in this kind of involvement​.”

Related Articles:

Kathy Gurchiek is associate editor for HR News.

Celebrated Program Hones Leadership Skills in Austin, HR News, March 16, 2010

Local Career Programs for Military Personnel Set for Nationwide Splash, HR News, March 3, 2010

New Orleans SHRM Chapter Boosts Talent Retention, Job Growth HR News, Feb. 17, 2010

Award-Winning Chapter Program Prepares Students for Jobs, HR News, Feb. 2, 2010

HR Reaches Out to Unemployed on Telethon, HR News, Jan. 20, 2010

Related Resources:

HRMA and TeamWorks Partnership, SHRM Volunteer Resources

SHRM Pinnacle Awards Program Frequently Asked Questions, SHRM Volunteer Resources​


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