Remember the question of whether the chicken or the egg came first?
All too often, for persons with or without disabilities, “experience” seems the dominant factor in employee selection. With it comes assessment, consideration, and frequently the job itself. Without it, none of the above – including a way to get the needed experience.
The St. Paul Rehabilitation Center (SPRC) recognized the problem and offered a solution, called the OFFICE TECHNOLOGY PROGRAM. It’s purpose — to create skilled workers, rather than transfer them, by teaching heretofore unemployed and underemployed people marketable office skills, using the latest methods in office technology.
The people to be served would be drawn from the homeless and near- homeless, disabled or otherwise disadvantaged groups. Graduates would have a saleable skill, the “foot-the-door” so important in finding a first job. Implementation of the idea required finding a strong business sponsor willing to cooperate with the agency.
The St. Paul Companies provided the needed sponsorship, not only with money, but with a donation of space and equipment, plus the opportunity to fill job opportunities within their company. SPRC took it from there and the OFFICE TECHNOLOGY PROGRAM went into business.
A community-based clerical training program, it’s housed within the St. Paul Companies headquarters building in downtown St. Paul.
In addition to the major contribution by the St. Paul Companies of space and equipment, and grant of salary dollars to pay the participants as they perform work within the St. Paul Companies, the United Way contributed start-up dollars to focus on serving the homeless and near-homeless populations.
Clients referred to the Office Technology Program are intended to acquire specific job skills in the areas of receptionist, clerk-typist, file clerk or data entry clerk.
The program is a fee-for-service effort. The fees may be paid by the trainee but no one is denied services because of inability to pay. SPRC is a private, non-profit center and receives funding from a variety of grants and donors.
The training considers and respects individual circumstances and differences. It is designed to be one-on-one, individualized training. Participants work through the training at their own pace in a time frame of one to four months.
As part of their training, participants perform “real work” within various departments of the St. Paul Companies. Participants are paid for their “real work” time. Their work is directly supervised by the St. Paul Companies supervisors, with job coaching and support provided by the SPRC trainer.
Usually a participant begins by spending the majority of his/her time with the trainer. After approximately 2-3 weeks, the participant begins working for St. Paul Companies, and by the end of the three-month training period may be working nearly full time.
Throughout the program, a participant’s progress in terms of attendance, curriculum scores, work performance and interpersonal abilities are being measured. If he or she has done a particularly good job in these areas, they may be eligible for entry into the internship phase of the program. In addition, regularly scheduled staffings are held to review a participant’s progress, determine if there are any problems, and plan for next steps. These meetings will include the participant, the referral source, the SPRC trainer, and anyone else the participant may wish to include.
Admission to the program is through referral. Referral sources include the State of Minnesota (through the Division of Rehabilitation Services); the Job Training Centers of Ramsey, Dakota, Washington and Hennepin Counties; Catholic Charities, and area Qualified Rehabilitation Consultants. The program also provides an opportunity for persons who might wish to pay for their own training opportunity because they will be compensated for their work for St. Paul Companies.
None of the qualifying criteria exclude persons with disabilities, although individual assessments must prevail. Candidates must be at least 18 years of age, stable, able to care for their personal needs, and arrange their own transportation. They must have an interest and potential ability in the office technology field, control potentially injurious behavior, be able to administer required medications and have achieved stability regarding related effects. In addition, they must demonstrate enough motivation to lead to the expectation that they will benefit from participation in the Office Technology Program.
The curriculum design is customized for each client based on specific developmental needs recognized through the assessment process, and the position for which they are training. It could be that during the assessment process a particular need for training in the area of mathematics or reading comprehension is identified. In those cases, curriculum designed to meet those developmental needs is utilized.
Training is also customized in terms of how much time is spent working with the computer and learning keyboarding skills, but each client will have some exposure to the computer and an opportunity to improve their skill at the keyboard.
As participants are working for the St. Paul Companies supervisors, many aspects of their performance are being assessed, including appearance, punctuality, attendance, accuracy, interpersonal skills, speed, attention to detail, initiative, independence, decision-making and ability to take direction.
Highly successful participants have the opportunity for further experience with the St. Paul Companies through an internship phase of the program, during which they are paid a more competitive wage, work full time, and report directly to a supervisor within the company.
Goals for the program year are to perform 100 assessments, and to have 35-40 individuals complete the training. To date, 14 applicants have passed assessment and six have graduated, and four more are still in training. All but one of the graduates is employed and two of the trainees are interning on jobs.
Carla Jacobson, who manages the program for SPRC, said that as currently structured, the program can handle six trainees at one time and that they welcome referrals for the assessment process. Referrals can be made by family members, professionals or other concerned persons.
For further information, contact Carla Jacobson at SPRC, 221-7236.