Job Training & The Pandemic: Committed to Young Moms’ Success
Although the COVID-19 pandemic has changed many things, we are still committed to supporting young moms and their children. As we make decisions about our programs, we’re deeply aware of the impact these decisions have on families in our community. This is why we work diligently to balance public health with the critical need for our support programs. For several months, the program was on pause but now we’re welcoming moms back to work at Bright Endeavors. In this article, we take a look at the ways our team is adapting to our new reality while safely operating the social enterprise.
Recruitment & Retention
A difficult but important decision our Job Training staff made early on was to scale down the program by reducing the number of moms enrolled and the length of our program.This change was due to guidelines issued by the Centers for Disease Control.
To maintain proper social distancing, the number of participants on the production floor is about half of what it was last year, said our Director of Workforce Development, Gabrielle Caverl-McNeal. Since we have fewer participants working at one time, we’ve also shortened the program timeline from 16 weeks to 12 weeks. This change allows us to increase the amount of young moms who can participate in the program during the year.
“The shift was made in order to maximize the amount of participants we can serve,” Gabrielle said. “If we continue with the 12 week model we can serve 65 participants. But if we had continued with the 16 weeks, we would only serve about 40.”
Gabrielle said the shortened program doesn’t significantly change the participant experience. Moms lose a little bit of buffer time for finding a job post-graduation from the program, but she said this means they just start working with our employment specialists sooner.
Gabrielle said because of a smaller program size, the increased civil unrest and violence in Chicagoland over the past several months has had a greater impact on attendance and retention for moms in Job Training. Some are unable to begin the program after orientation or unable to finish because of domestic or gun violence impacting their families.
“This isn’t new,” Gabrielle said. “Gun violence is an issue in our city period and it gets worse in the summer, but we’re feeling the impact more because we have fewer participants. Rather than these issues affecting three moms out of 20, now it could be half our group is affected.”
Gabrielle said coaches are trained to work with moms experiencing violence at home as part of New Moms’ trauma-informed care approach. We also have a licensed therapist on staff for emergency interventions and to help address crisis situations with participants.
Despite the new restrictions and challenges, moms were eager to continue the program again after its almost four-month pause.
“Now that I have to come to work, I’m getting more done. I’m more focused,” said Infiniti, an alumni who started the program in January but due to the pandemic finished in June. “It was just really hard for me staying in the house with my child, so thank you for letting us come back to work!”
The pandemic brought with it new state and city-wide restrictions that caused Bright Endeavors to rethink safety while the candle making company was closed for 4 months.
The goal is to keep everyone safe by wearing masks, conducting temperature checks, implementing more virtual training, and ensuring spatial distancing measures while “maintaining the integrity of the program,” notes Gabrielle.
Marchelle, a current Production Assistant, said that even with the increased safety measures, the job has not changed her outlook.
“We pretty much try to keep 6 feet apart, if we’re in a group talking we all have our masks on and we keep our hands clean,” said Marchelle, who is 22 years old and parenting her 4-month-old daughter. “I love this job, it’s like a second family.”
Cathy Robinson-Yates, a New Moms’ Training and Coaching Specialist, said both moms and staff were eager to get back to work after months staying home.
She said the transition back to the production floor was easy despite the new safety measures because the participants brought an excited energy to the program.
Even in instances where in-person activities have become virtual, like Parent Support Group and Financial Fridays, there are silver linings, and Cathy said moms have acclimated quickly to these changes.
“It’s kind of been helpful,” said Shakira, a 22-year-old mom of two toddlers with a third child on the way. “Since it’s virtual, I’m at home so I’m still able to get some of the business done that I need done at home while I’m on my Zoom call.”
The addition of technology, like Zoom, has also allowed coaches to infuse positive parent-child interactions into the program. Staff have been trying to find a way to incorporate these activities for a long time. And now is a great time because moms are at home with their children on Mondays and Fridays!
Production Assistant Tamya said she’s enjoyed including her son during the Zoom classes.
“It’s been good,” said Tamya, who is 20 years old and pregnant with her second child. “My baby is playful. He’s active for one years old. He talks to everyone and waves to everyone he sees.”
However, one challenge for the coaches has been finding COVID-friendly ways of celebrating the milestone ceremonies when moms graduate from the program. Under normal circumstances, moms could invite their families and bring their children to a large party at New Moms’ Transformation Center. Now, the event is virtual with family and friends attending via Zoom.
Tamya said she is disappointed that her family won’t be able to attend her milestone celebration in person, but she’s excited that there will still be a public recognition of some kind. In fact, she said the coaches will be making it a baby shower because she and another mom who will be graduating are both pregnant.
“I’m really glad that New Moms is doing us a baby shower,” Tamya said. “I’m happy that this job really is giving us support and help.”
Bright Endeavors has remained not only committed to a reduced team size to allow for spatial distancing and flexible work hours for parenting participants and staff, but also a pace of production that allows teams to practice self-care during the pandemic and racial justice uprisings.
This has meant a carefully laid out candle-manufacturing schedule, a more streamlined and strategic sales strategy,
and a new line of candles with a thoughtful design.
“We had the idea for another collection of candles before the pandemic but new limitations on production time and supplier availability forced us to make adjustments to its design,” said Allie Sundet, our Marketing and Engagement Manager.
The result is the new, Bright Glass Collection that features candles that involve less steps to create, while providing an additional way to support our Job Training program.
Still, achieving production goals for the production assistants is somewhat more challenging with less people.
“For the most part the ladies have been meeting the goals wonderfully,” Shakira said. “We do start with our SMART goals in the morning, it has gotten a little bit tough but by everyone not slacking, getting their work done and bringing a positive energy, it’s been a great workplace to work in, so I don’t mind the hard work.”
An important part of the Job Training program is seeking and securing a job for life after the 12-week program. Ashlee Krawczyk, our Employer Engagement Specialist, notes that there has been a change in the types of jobs available for young moms.
Typically, there has been a strong pipeline to connect production assistants to jobs in the hospitality, retail, and food service industries but due to the pandemic these sectors of the economy have significantly reduced hiring. In contrast, industries like light manufacturing, transportation, and healthcare are increasing job hires.
The production assistants said they are keeping their options open when job searching.
“I have started looking at jobs,” said Shakira, who is just beginning the job search part of the program. “I love working with customers, I would love to do retail. I’ve done [Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA)] before and I also love CNA work.”
Reducing the timeline of the program from 16 weeks to 12 weeks to allow for spatial distancing did bring some challenges for our New Moms’ employment specialists who help moms locate jobs prior to graduation.
“Now that the program is 4 weeks shorter, the pressure is on to help our moms find permanent jobs even faster,” Employment Specialist Ashlee Krawczyk said. “That means dipping into more resources and relying on partnerships more heavily.”
Overall, moms are still finding employment at the same rate as before the pandemic, which offers hope in navigating the changing workforce landscape and economy.
A Commitment To Success
Despite the challenges of navigating a global pandemic, our team at New Moms and Bright Endeavors remains committed to meeting our community’s need for workforce development training. Now more than ever, it’s important to adapt our program and be flexible so we can continue partnering with young moms of color who have been hit disproportionately hard by the fallout from COVID-19.
If you want to read more about New Moms’ commitment to racial equity, you can read our anti-racism statement here. And check out this article to learn more about the innovative ways Bright Endeavors serves young moms.