When the COVID-19 pandemic began, like many organizations that provide training for workers, Boston Education Skills and Training (BEST) Corp. found their target industry in upheaval. The recipient of a $215,833 Senator Kenneth J. Donnelly Workforce Success grant from the Fundo Fiduciário de Competitividade da Força de Trabalho, BEST was working with four hotel employer partners and five MassHire workforce boards and career centers to prepare unemployed and underemployed trainees for hotel industry housekeeping positions. So in response, BEST pivoted to target an industry that was still hiring and could use the skills being taught in its hotel industry program — hospitals and healthcare.
Here are five questions with BEST Executive Director Marie Downey on her organization it pivoted and her advice for others adapting to the post-coronavirus economy.
1) Tell us about your program — its initial goals and how it operated.
Boston Education, Skills & Training (BEST) Corp. is a sector-based non-profit focused on the hospitality industry. By combining pre-employment and incumbent worker training, we help low-income individuals move into quality hospitality jobs with family sustaining wages and low-cost, comprehensive benefits.
Our Introduction to Hospitality Training, Housekeeping Pre-Apprenticeship Program trains participants for positions in hotel housekeeping departments. Graduates receive a Massachusetts Department of Labor Housekeeping Pre-Apprenticeship credential and nine college credits at Bunker Hill Community College (BHCC). Once they complete the apprenticeship, graduates receive an industry-recognized certificate from the Massachusetts Department of Labor, Division of Apprentice Standards and an additional three college credits. BEST will prepare approximately 40 un/underemployed residents over two years for entry into quality hospitality jobs. Successful participants will get jobs at BEST’s partner hotels and they will be eligible for the comprehensive and affordable Local 26 benefits.
2) How did you change the program to adapt to the current needs of the participants?
The pandemic hit our target industry – hospitality – early and severely. Our hotel partners closed their doors in March. Our job seekers still needed jobs. In response, we created The Healthcare Environmental Services Worker (EVS) Training Program since the healthcare industry was hiring and the skills we taught were transferrable to this industry.
All training components are now conducted virtually. BEST partnered with Tech Goes Home to ensure all participants had access to computers and the internet. Class components include, OSHA Safe Work Methods and certification, Health Risks Associated with Infectious Diseases and Hazardous Chemicals, Ergonomic Injury Prevention, Understanding Privacy under HIPAA, Contaminated Work Environments, as well as Northstar Digital Literacy, Conflict Resolution, Business Etiquette, Body Language, Personal Qualities, Coaching, and Mock Interviews. Students receive OSHA Safe Work certification once they submit and pass an online certification test at the end of the program.
3) What are the challenges you faced in making those changes?
In a very quick pivot, BEST 1) built relationships with new healthcare employers, 2) trained staff and certified them to prepare students for hospital work, 3) revised our job seeker curriculum, and 4) moved all of our services online. Most of the challenges came from the transition to online delivery:
- BEST had to redesign the comprehensive intake process. E.g., we created virtual information sessions, conducted virtual interviews, created digital paperwork (we are using WuFu) and implemented a system for electronic signatures (we are using DocuSign).
- Although we were already using Google Classroom, we got a Zoom account and started using Pear Deck (Google app) to enhance the online class experience.
- BEST noticed less camaraderie between students because of the lack of personal interaction. This led to less active participation.
- Students need a dedicated time and place to be focused on the class. This is difficult when so many had children at home.
- Some students had health concerns about working in hospitals during a pandemic.
- Some students had only a post office box rather than a street address and this made it hard to deliver a Tech Goes Home Chromebook to these students.
4) What have been the outcomes since making the changes?
We started the class with fifteen students, two did not complete, two refused placements in a hospital until a vaccine is available. Of the eleven remaining students, one has been job placed and six are in the final stages of interviewing. The chart below shows more detail.
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The pilot of the Healthcare Environmental Service Worker Training Program ran June 1-19, 2020. Over 30 individuals indicated interest in the program.
Because of ongoing interest and successful outcomes in this class, BEST has scheduled three more cycles: September 14, 2020 to October 2, 2020, January 4 to 22, 2021, and March 22 to April 9, 2021
To help us meet our placement goals, BEST has partnered with the following employers:
- Mass General Hospital
- Brigham & Women’s Hospital
- Boston Children’s Hospital
- Mass Eye and Ear
- Spaulding Rehab Network
- Beth Israel Deaconess
- Newton Wellesley Hospital
- North Shore Medical Centers
5) What advice would you give to others on how to adapt and innovate their programs to best meet the challenges of today?
- Stay within your expertise by knowing what you do well and build on that.
- Look at hiring trends to see what industry is hiring.
- Schedule ample time to launch a new pilot.
- Start small and refine as necessary.
- Build new employer relationships if necessary.
- Get employer input as to what skills they’re looking for post COVID-19.
- Include industry recognized certifications.
- Understand that online classes require significant preparation. For example, Instructors need to communicate with students beforehand to ensure they can access the online classroom; teachers need to have all classroom material on a PPT to share; Teachers need to embed links to resources, student surveys, assessments, etc.