MassHire Award Finalists Show Respect

This blog post is the first in a series honoring and highlighting the great work of our MassHire members who were nominated and chosen as finalists for the 2020 MassHire Awards. This blog focuses on the finalists for the Respect category, including the award winner, MassHire Lowell Career Center for Kelly Higgins, Young Adult Career Advisor. MassHire is committed to understanding and valuing the diverse, unique requirements and professional goals of the businesses and people they serve. Nominations for this category were based on answers to the following questions:

  1. How did the work achieved by this individual or team effect innovative, sustainable change and positive outcomes for customers (both businesses and jobseekers), partner staff, community organizations, and/or MassHire colleagues?
  2. How has the nominee gone above and beyond to recognize the dignity of their colleagues and the customers?

MassHire Lowell Career Center, Kelly Higgins, Young Adult Career Advisor – Partnership with Career Academy Supports Lowell Public School Youth Career and Education Success (Respect Award Winner)

Kelly Higgins was nominated for her work on behalf of MassHire Lowell Career Center in a partnership with The Career Academy, an alternative high school setting designed to help young people throughout the Lowell Public Schools who experience extremely high barriers to school attendance. The setting allows for smaller class sizes, a more flexible schedule and a competency-based method of teaching. Kelly’s job was to implement soft skills curriculum, work readiness training, and career planning with the students. As stated in her nomination, “Her unique ability to connect with the students made an impression on the Lowell school system.” The challenges that the students face mean staff like Kelly need to show respect and dignity to the students in order to earn their trust.

Through this work, Kelly learned the importance of honoring each student’s unique story and the lessons they have learned that can be offered to others. According to Kelly, connecting youth to adults and institutions in their community results in an enhanced sense of belonging for them, while developing a sizable social network and exposure to positive modeling and support. She found consistency, connection and being available were keys to building trust and the relationships with students. Building upon small wins with the young people in Career Academy helped them build their self-worth and confidence, setting them up for greater successes in the future.

COVID-19 has had impacts on the program and the Young Adult Department at the Career Center. They have embraced new technology to continue to offer high quality services virtually, accepted different modes of career advising, and encouraged students to be collaborative on what works best for them. The career advising practices are taking many forms, including answering questions by email to in-depth interaction via video calls. The staff have embraced using online assessments and questionnaires, as well as preparing students for virtual interviews. Most importantly, they want to ensure the students have access to support and assist with discovering their resilience, adaptability, and perseverance. 

MassHire Springfield Career Center – WIOA Team: Joe Mineo, Yvette Jackson, Phil Rurak, Neida Rodriguez (Workshop Presented by Iliana Caez), Building a Team Under Pressure

The WIOA team at the MassHire Springfield Career Center was nominated for their work building a team under pressure. Before COVID-19 hit, the team was already short staffed by 40%. Training new colleagues and taking on the work of former colleagues made for a stressful work environment for more than 6 months. Once the pandemic hit, they had to adapt and form an even more cohesive team in order to meet customer needs in new ways. As stated in their nomination, “They relied on each other, helping, consoling, and guiding each other. There had to be times they felt they were paddling against the current, yet they met the public everyday with a professional demeanor and a smile. Life is easy when things go well. You learn a lot about people when the going gets tough.”

Through this experience, the WIOA team learned that they could show respect to their peers and customers while under extreme pressure. They found that flexible work schedules that allowed for time outside of regular operating hours for staff to catch up on follow-up work and case notes helped them manage their workloads.

COVID-19 has impacted the team’s work, but they find continuing mentorship for staff and open lines of communication among staff to answer questions and offer guidance helps. The team allows for creativity in how they serve jobseekers in this new environment, including stream-lining processes and using technology for virtual services; approaches that will help the team now and in the future.

This team presented a workshop for the Massachusetts workforce development community on the experience that led to their nomination. Click here to view the powerpoint. Click here for links to register for future MassHire Award Finalist Workshops in September and October.


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