Meeting Modern Workforce Needs: A Discussion with OE

June 22, 2023

The pandemic has made it evident that frontline human services workers are crucial drivers of the work toward building a successful economic pathway for families. While workforce development has long been recognized as an important component of effectively delivering services to people and communities, there has historically been a lack of investment in designing and implementing innovative workforce development policies and programs. Frontline human service workers have too often been underpaid, under-supported, and under-recognized in a human services industry that has consistently failed to attract, support, retain, and reward workers. Consequently, in 2023, the workforce shortage has risen to crisis levels, with organizations throughout the country reporting vacancies as high as 30%. Human services leaders are now looking for promising approaches to address these workforce challenges.

In 2021, the Richmond Department of Social Services (DSS) partnered with the American Public Human Services Association’s (APHSA) Organizational Effectiveness (OE) Team to proactively adapt to meet the needs of its workforce. The Richmond DSS Sponsor Team identified workforce development, along with staff recruitment and retention, as key areas of opportunity to reach their desired future state. Bringing 18+ years of developing, evaluating, and refining our OE practice, APHSA is at the forefront of translating the lens of the Human Services Value Curve into practice, learning, and application within the human services ecosystem. With the help of our OE consultants, the Richmond DSS Sponsor Team worked to refine priority agency needs and identify a specific agenda and action-oriented goals to ensure that the educational opportunities and strategic supports provided for staff continuously improved to meet staff needs. This included the development of a new curriculum track design, innovative training system redesign, and enhanced professional development training.

APHSA’s Kim James, Assistant Director of Technical Assistance, and Alex Figueroa, Assistant Director of Learning and Development, bring a combined 38 years of experience in facilitating change management and other organizational development activities within human services. In this blog post, Kim and Alex discuss their experience working with Richmond DSS.

How did you ensure your recommendations align with the Richmond DSS’s mission and values?

Kim and Alex: The Richmond DSS mission, vision, and values were referred to throughout the entirety of the project and often referenced by us as facilitators or participants of the group. We also shared with participants how their strategic planning and decision-making in this work should tie back to who they are, what they value, and what they want to become as an agency.

How do you build and maintain relationships with agency staff and leadership?

Kim and Alex: We build and maintain relationships with agency staff and leadership in many ways. One way is to approach them from the mindset that they know themselves best and we are there to pull out the information in a way that is most useful for them. We are respectful of their time, and we follow through on our action items as part of our action-planning process. We communicate with them regularly, via email or virtually, and in a manner that meets their needs. We also allow for “impromptu” meetings or conversations to occur as needed as things can arise during a process that was not planned for. We do believe it is also helpful we have frontline human services experience, so when our customers like Richmond DSS talk about their experiences, we are able to empathize. That can be a powerful tool in our relationship building.

How did you engage with staff and clients when working on projects with Richmond DSS?

Kim and Alex: We always engage in our work from a strengths-based, solution-focused perspective. Much like when agencies work with families from the perspective that the families know themselves best, we also believe agencies we work with know themselves best and have the information and answers that they need within themselves. We have this frame of mind as we begin engagement with any agency. Engaging staff in work also empowers them to be committed and energized throughout the process.

We begin the work by acknowledging our participants as people first, intentionally taking the time to do icebreakers and activities that allow people to share information with us and with each other. Our goal is to use engagement strategies to begin to create a space where participants feel safe and where they can be authentic.

We also approach our work with authenticity and humor! We share our own work experiences as appropriate and support the use of humor in adding levity to difficult situations when possible.

How do you measure the success of your projects when working with human services agencies?

Kim and Alex: We look at the Scope of Work (SOW) created at the beginning of the project and ensure all the objectives outlined were addressed, attempted, and achieved. What is interesting about our work is that the outcomes are not always concrete outputs. While we may produce a tangible Roadmap for Change the agency uses to move their work forward, there are also the less tangible outcomes of things like improved teamwork, improved communication, a reenergized feeling, and increased morale. We often measure success, too, by anecdotal information agencies share directly with us, thanking us for the assistance and telling others about their success in working with APHSA.

For more information about how the APHSA OE team can support your organization, please reach out to Jen Kerr, Director of OE.

Meeting Modern Workforce Needs: A Discussion with OE

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