Who wouldn’t want to be part of an initiative that fills an employer’s hiring need and puts a skilled worker back on the job – thereby strengthening the entire community?
That’s a question pondered by both Sheila Hemphill, Charlotte Works’ On-The-Job Training (OJT) manager, and Shari Wright-Harley, executive director of Connections BWB, who is currently hosting two OJT trainees at her critical access behavioral health agency.
“It’s an ideal opportunity, in terms of overall economic recovery, to help organizations grow by training productive new employees to meet their needs,” says Hemphill. “And it targets small and mid-sized companies, which is where the growth is happening.”
“They put displaced workers to work, and that helps the whole community,” agrees Wright-Harley.
In the program year that ended June 30, Charlotte Works developed 30 OJT grants that averaged $10,900. Twenty-four trainees successfully completed their training and retained their positions. Grants totaled nearly $326,000.
OJT grants provide wage/salary reimbursements to employers to compensate for the costs associated with skills-upgrade training and/or the loss of production for new hires. Employers may receive reimbursement of 50 to 90 percent of the wages/salaries for OJT trainees. Reimbursement rates and period of time vary based on the size of the organization and the specific training needed by new hires.
The OJT process can be either employer-driven or candidate-driven, Hemphill explains, noting that she and Jim Korth, OJT specialist, see equal numbers of both initiating the conversation with Charlotte Works.
If the employer drives the process, the company knows about the program and recruits trainees specific to the grant request.
Eligible candidates use OJT grants as a marketing tool during their search process, often introducing potential employers to the concept using materials provided by Charlotte Woks.
“We’re the only workforce board in the state doing it this way,” notes Hemphill. “We have a unified model that connects the employer and trainee sides of the equation. We recognize the power of committed job-seekers to be good ambassadors for OJT, shorten the period of unemployment for themselves and shorten the period of un- or non-productivity for employers.”
Howard says Connections BWB had been searching for someone to manage its billing processes since 2007 before hiring Charlotte Works client Phyllis Howard as a service analyst through an OJT grant in March.
Phyllis Howard (L), service analyst, and Shari Wright-Harley (R), executive director, discuss the new North Carolina Health Choice billing system at the offices of Connections BWB. Howard is one of two Charlotte Works clients currently employed at the behavioral health agency under On-The-Job Training grants.
“We had people, but they couldn’t grasp the full scope of working with managed care contracts,” says Wright-Harley. Her nationally accredited agency, an organization that serves the mental health, substance abuse and developmental disability needs of adults, children and families, “has to bill someone for all this, and that’s where her expertise comes in.”
Wright-Harley learned about Charlotte Works and OJT grants from a colleague at another agency.
Howard learned about them from a news story. “I thought, ‘let me try this,’ because I knew the job market had changed,” she says. She came to Charlotte Works at the end of January and attended orientations for the organization and specifically for OJT grants.
When Wright-Harley called Hemphill to learn more about OJT grants, Hemphill immediately connected her to Howard. “It was really strange because I got the call to interview for a part-time billing position with Connections BWB and I hadn’t sent out any resumes in reference to medical billing,” Howard says. “This is different from traditional billing because the system has changed, Medicaid has changed. That’s what’s exciting for me – I’m learning something new every day.”
She notes that she’s trained on four separate managed care systems, Connections BWB’s internal system and the state of North Carolina’s tracking system, learning terminology and coding for each. Her background is in medical and insurance billing.
“They found us a really good candidate,” says Wright-Harley. “Charlotte Works does a really good job at screening. It takes a lot of the guesswork out of ‘did you hire the right person?’”
“I got a full-time job making a decent penny,” Howard says. “It pays me what I’m worth in my field. Looking for jobs on my own, I found that wages had gone down considerably.”
Hemphill points out that Howard’s story underscores an oft-misunderstood aspect of OJT grants: the funds are targeted not at lower-skilled, lower-paid positions, but at technical, managerial or professional jobs with professional compensation.
“We have a lot of people with specialized skills who were displaced from management positions, and OJT is the perfect instrument to aid the unique needs of both populations,” she says. “If you have specialized skills, you can broaden them, develop different or more specialized ones to re-attain employment. If you’re in management, OJT helps a ‘chief’ become a more productive ‘Indian’ by refreshing downstream skills.”
OJT Fast Facts
For Program Year 2013 (July 1, 2012 – June 30, 2013)
- 30 On-The-Job Training grants developed
- 24 trainees successfully completed training & retained position (80% success rate)
- $16.28 average hourly wage
- $10,900 average contract amount
- 10 – 25 weeks average grant duration (depending on skill level of the trainee)
- $325,941 total OJT grants awarded