Growing Home at the National Transitional Jobs Network’s 2012 Conference
About this time last week I was cruising at 39,000 feet with 150 other passengers on Southwest Flight 251. This trip from Chicago to Baltimore is one I’ve made a number of times to visit friends and family in Maryland, D.C., and Virginia- but this time it was all business! Earlier this year, I was invited to attend the National Transitional Jobs Network’s (NTJN) annual conference, “Restoring the Promise of Work, Subsidized Employment & Transitional Jobs”, in Baltimore to represent Growing Home. About 300 other professionals working with transitional employment programs, social enterprises, community based organizations, and government agencies joined me for the conference, which was focused around the best practices for helping individuals experiencing barriers to obtain and maintain unsubsidized employment.
After a delightful conversation with friendly cab driver, I arrived at the Renaissance Baltimore Harborplace Hotel just in time for the conference welcome, lunch, and the first session, which paid homage to a decade worth of transitional employment initiatives. In a matter of moments, I felt right at home and very excited about the conference program.
For my first plenary session, I chose “Ensuring Transitional Jobs are More Than Just a Time-Limited Paycheck” presented by Chris Warland (NTJN) and Lili Elkins (ROCA, Inc.). The session title reminded me immediately of the goals and objectives of Growing Home’s Employment Training program to provide real–not busy–work to interns on our farms. I guess others were excited about this session too because there was standing room only! During the next hour and a half I intently listened and scribble notes on the fundamental message of the presenters that “transitional jobs should be a developmental experience for participants” all while reflecting on the many ways Growing Home has worked to ensure this.
Next, I attended a session called “Contextualized Instruction for Adults.” Over the last year Employment Training Staff has been working intently on “contextualizing” our Job Readiness, Agriculture Sciences, and Food Systems classes. This essentially means that instruction should be learner centered, built on current knowledge, provide skills that are transferable, and adapt to the specific learning styles and needs of participants. After this, I attended a plenary session on federal funding opportunities for transitional employment and a session called “Perfecting Your Pitch to Engage Employers” presented by the Chicago Jobs Council.
Not only was I fortunate enough to attend the conference, but also I also was honored to present the work of Growing Home in a workshop titled “Participants, Business and the Community: The Triple Bottom Line of Social Enterprise TJ Programs.” I sat on a panel with Samra Haider, Portfolio Director at Roberts Enterprise Development Fund (an organization that provides grants and business assistance to social enterprises) and Gregg Keesling, President for RecycleForce (a recycling social enterprise providing transitional employment). My presentation was called “Seeds of Change: Flexible TJ Program Strategies For Social Enterprises.”
The goal of my presentation was to highlight how Growing Home’s employment training program has developed in the areas of staff development, recruitment, orientation, instruction, and employer outreach as the agriculture business has grown. This growth has meant that program and production staff have had to creatively find a delicate balance between meeting the needs of a business (i.e. increasing production, sales, and quality) and the program (i.e. providing transitional employment, simulating a workplace environment to people with barriers, and experiential learning). By and large, we found that that we are able to do this by: 1) maintaining effective communication and collaboration between production and program staff; 2) recruiting high quality candidates using strength based assessment tools; 3) providing an intense two week orientation that teaches core production skills and concepts to ensure successful work; and 4) enhancing training and services to support the onsite work as well as the transition into the food preparation, landscaping, customer service, and local agriculture occupations.
After a lively dialogue between panelists and attendees I was off to the airport again. But this time I certainly was leaving with more than I arrived with: a better connection to the TJ movement, new tools for Growing Home’s program management and training staff, and an even deeper appreciation for the privilege of being a part of this organization.
Employment Training Manager