August 9, 1996

VUMC’s WorkStart program helps get lives back on track

Featured Image

Rochelle Sweatt, with patient James Fountain, is now a patient care technician in Dermatology thanks to Vanderbilt's Workstart program

VUMC's WorkStart program helps get lives back on track

Early this year, 27-year-old Rochelle Sweatt found that things can quickly turn from bad to worse.

First, the divorced mother of three had surgery. Then, she found herself laid off from her job as a sanitation facilitator for a local food company.

Two months ago things changed again – this time for the better – when Sweatt was hired as a patient care technician in Dermatology at Vanderbilt University Medical Center. It's a job she says helped get her life back on track.

It came about through WorkStart, a collaborative program offered by VUMC and the Tennessee Department of Human Services.

Sweatt completed a three-month "boot camp for the workplace," a WorkStart program which trains recipients of Aid to Families of Dependent Children (AFDC) for entry-level staff positions at VUMC.

Over the past six months, more than 22 people have been placed in jobs within VUMC after completing the program.

"The program began when Vanderbilt assessed its needs for entry level and staff positions," said Rolyn A. Dix, manager of the program. "There were positions which were identified that had high turnover, that were critical for patient care, and that were hard to fill. The state also had a need to employ and help make individuals who were receiving AFDC more independent," Dix said.

"The two ideas came together and we now have a win/win situation in which customers of DHS may be trained to take positions that are critical to providing high quality patient care here at Vanderbilt."

The program is the only employer-based program in the state, Dix said. Besides DHS, VUMC also has prospective employees referred from other agencies throughout the community, churches and schools.

There are four phases of the program, beginning with work force culture training, a three-and-a-half week series of classes in which the participants learn about the culture of the working world. The curriculum includes information about the benefits of working, conflict resolution, communication and financial management. The participants meet each weekday from 8 a.m. until 2:30 p.m.

Other information included in the first portion of the class includes the importance of punctuality, consistent attendance and lifeskills organization (how to organize your home life so you can be an effective employee).

"That would include a back-up child care plan and attention to home management details that would allow a child to remain healthy for long periods of time so the parent won't be constantly absent," Dix said.

The second phase is position training, in which the participants train for a specific job.

The third phase of the program is a mentorship, in which individuals are placed in their desired position alongside an employee who has been identified as a high performance employee. This on-the-job training portion of the program lasts for about six weeks.

The final phase of the program is a follow-up portion in which participants are monitored in their positions for one year.

The targeted areas for placement of participants are service associates, nutrition services, environmental services and word processors (medical receptionists).

As managers throughout the medical center hear about the program, however, other departments are participating. WorkStart participants have also been placed in Dermatology, Radiology and medical billing.

"Any manager who has an availability for an entry-level position can call us and tell us what their minimum qualifications are and what type of skills they are looking for," Dix said. "We'll attempt to identify a person or persons within our group. More and more, managers are hearing about the program from other managers and are calling us on their own," Dix said.

Don Adair, Technical Director for Respiratory Care is one of the those managers.

One participant, Margie Woodard, is now working in Respiratory Therapy as a Respiratory Therapist. Adair has asked Dix for another participant.

"I happen to agree that some people need help getting into the workforce," Adair said. "And we have a lot of trouble keeping people in entry-level positions. I believe the follow-up program for WorkStart is very important to this program. They're not just putting someone out there to sink or swim."

Adair said that Woodard is "very enthusiastic and dependable" and has the opportunity for advancement into higher-level positions.

The feedback from the 22 participants who have been placed in jobs at VUMC has also been positive, said Gary Jamison, staff trainer with the program.

"They enjoy the opportunity and are very, very self motivated. They want to be promoted," he said. "Our WorkStart participants understand they are opening up the door for someone to follow behind them. Some are surprised they can do their job and function in this big system as a professional, which they are."

"It's always beneficial for them to go back and encourage the ones currently in the training class. They let them know they can do it too. Three months is a commitment to learn and become oriented to the Vanderbilt way."

Sweatt said her situation was slightly different than others participating in the program. She had been employed, but had lost her job. About 40 percent of the participants are coming straight to work from home.

"Even though I already had many of the skills that are taught in the program, it helped me get a job at Vanderbilt and that was important to me," she said.