As you know Sandy Taylor has made the decision to retire from Vocational Rehabilitation after 27 years of service to individuals with disabilities. The following highlights Sandy’s career:
These assignments include: General adult, several area high schools, and
St. Luke’s Hospital. She taught the Job Seeking Skills Training classes for
CRAO, is our Spanish speaking resource and currently the Ticket to Work Counselor
On a personal note, she is a talented musician playing both the organ and piano having served several Churches in the area over many years. (Even played the organ at one of her colleagues wedding.)
She holds the official title of Master Gardener working with the area Extension Office.
Sandy has 2 children, and one grandson.
Sandy Taylor is genuinely a nice person, has a great sense of humor and will be greatly missed !
In February of 2005, as a result of office action planning for placement and marketing, MCAO staff began inviting at least one local employer to a staff meeting each month in addition to individual counselor employer development activities in the counties. The purpose of these meetings was to give the local employers an opportunity to come in and describe their businesses, and also to have the opportunity to give out their own marketing materials and answer questions about their own industries. These meetings would also be an opportunity for MCAO counselors to begin making relationships with a new Cerro Gordo County employer each month, and have the opportunity to ask questions regarding local LMI information which could be used in counseling and placement efforts. Our hope was to develop a “cadre” of local employers with whom we could maintain more of a lasting relationship—these would be employers that we might invite to our public marketing/visibility events, since our track record on attendance to such events had been historically dismal. These would also be employers that potentially could be developed by individual counselors as accounts, and this in turn would help us both with local visibility and with job placement. If some counselors were less comfortable with making employer development visits on their own, these in-house visits would serve as opportunities to practice employer development skills in a less threatening setting. In the beginning, many of the employers we invited had not hired VR clients that they were aware of.
Over the course of the year, our employer cadre grew, and individual counselor contact with this group also grew. I was hearing more frequent stories where one of the “accounts” had worked with one of our counselors in hiring a client, and that was encouraging (we are still trying to figure out the best way to track this kind of progress). Our October 2005 event had the best turn out by employers of the previous 3 attempts, but the turn out was still not what we wanted, and we felt that failure to maintain the relationships we were initiating was the problem. We were looking for a way to maintain contact with our employers without making ourselves a nuisance. Charlie Levine gave me the idea of a quarterly newsletter to employers at one of our marketing trainings in Des Moines, and late in December 2005, our first issue went out to our cadre (by this time, about 25-30 employers and a few local legislators). This was essentially a 1 page letter with a few brief notes about IVRS, and a handful of on-line and toll free number resources for employers on disability issues.
In the meantime, David Mitchell had sent out his survey on staff capacity asking us about the kinds of services we all felt comfortable providing. At MCAO, we had had enough public and individual meetings with employers to have already struggled with what kinds of services, other than placement, we should be marketing to our local employers. Our revised office action plan called for identifying the services most likely marketable in our area, then getting the training (if any) needed to begin marketing those services. As a part of that effort, counselor Mary Ott offered to put together a local employer focus group(assisted by the supervisor) to try to identify what kinds of services employers really wanted. The focus group would be also an opportunity for MCAO visibility, and we would draw on our employer cadre for potential participants since we suspected that other public events had lacked in attendance due to invitations being sent to employers who really didn’t know us very well.
Mary and I decided on an employer group of around 8-10 participants, to come to a one hour meeting here at the Workforce Development Center. We would provide food (most of which staff would provide themselves), and we would try to discuss 4 questions during the hour over lunch with Steve taking notes on the responses. We contacted about 12 of the employers on our cadre list, those we knew we had done some placement with, and Steve called half and Mary called the other half. We got commitments to attend from 8individuals, but each of those who declined expressed regrets and asked to be included another time. For the participants who confirmed, we sent a letter of invitation which included the 4 focus questions along with some background information on IVRS. The focus group was scheduled for Thursday April 27, 2006 from noon to 1:00 p.m., though guests were encouraged to arrive a bit early to pick up their food and visit with area office staff. On the day of the focus group, two participants were unable to attend, but another brought two additional staff, and all the rest came. We had individuals from local businesses including Curries/Graham Industries, ConAgra Foods, Hamilton College, Manly Nursing and Rehabilitation Center, Express Personnel Services, and Homestead Assisted Living. Steve did introductions and IVRS background information, and Mary read the focus questions and helped guide the discussion. Steve took notes and also participated in the discussion. After the focus questions were completed, members stayed around about a half an hour and interacted with several MCAO counselors on an individual basis.
There were several very positive developments as a result of this focus group. During the course of the discussion, we learned that each of the employers were very familiar with IVRS and had worked individually with at least one counselor; several of the businesses represented recalled hiring a VR client as a result of working with a counselor, and two of the businesses related positive stories about the process of working with IVRS to hire persons with disabilities. The HR person for Curries, , a larger employer in our area, related that he had a particularly good relationship with counselor Rick Jorgensen. As a side note, earlier this same week, counselor Michelle Krefft had a client who wanted to apply for one of the open positions at Curries, and she talked with Rick about the client. He advised her to go ahead and contact HR and let them know he was in agreement, so Michelle made the contact on behalf of the client to try to get him an interview. After hearing that Rick felt the client would be a good match, the HR director apparently told Michelle, “If Rick feels this man would work out, then we’ll give him an interview.”
Some other positives of the focus group: During the focus group, we received and recorded a lot of very candid feedback on our questions, and we also received some unsolicited information about how to relate to employers. For example, we learned that the quarterly newsletter that I was so proud of was not being read by the employers. Several mentioned that it wasted their time. They felt it was attractive and interesting, but they just didn’t have time for attractive and interesting. They wanted the on-going contact with us, but they wanted the contact to be very practical to their needs and accessible without taking much time and effort to use. They suggested a format whereby the interesting stories were left off, and we place mini-resumes of job ready clients (without the client’s full names), but with credentials, job desired, salary desired, hours desired, and a couple bulleted strengths. There could be a fairly short list of these monthly with the counselors’ names and phone numbers associated with each candidate. They preferred the letter in e-mail format when possible, and they said they’d be happy to provide feedback as to its usefulness. Another employer suggested an annual, short survey of labor market need to be sent to each employer once a year so that counselors could learn about the needs in the employer community without having to telephone or stop by. All agreed that they did not feel overwhelmed by agency visits, and many felt that VR counselor visits were welcome when there was a good practical purpose, but all were concerned about their time.
After the session was over, several participants came up to me to thank me for having them give their opinions. One told me he was impressed by the fact that VR was trying to “think like business,” and that we were making the effort to find out what businesses wanted, then seeking to Taylor services after those needs. One told me I was very brave to expose my group to a focus session with private business, and he was impressed and couldn’t believe he was seeing that from a government agency.
In short, along with the information collected on services desired, we felt that this focus group was a success in several ways; we felt it showed progress in the relationships we have been developing with local employers. We felt that the strong turnout and enthusiastic participation was a good sign in itself, and also we felt we saw an apparent employer consciousness of the local role of IVRS, and an apparent awareness of individual counselors. We felt we saw almost universal awareness by this group of actual clients placed in the majority of their businesses. All of this made us feel that our visibility and placement effectiveness has indeed improved.