By Patricia Ladew

The fact that unemployment is at a 50-year low is cause for celebration. But for human resource (HR) professionals in the human services field, this good news is accompanied by major challenges. That’s because it comes at a time when the demand for direct care workers is at an all-time high.

These days, it’s harder than ever to attract and keep vital, frontline caregivers. And Cape Cod’s geography, population, and tourism industry pose particular challenges for year-round businesses.

May Institute, a nonprofit organization that serves individuals across the lifespan with autism and other special needs, has developed a unique program to help meet hiring and retention goals in the current tight labor market.

“We needed to address the challenge of finding qualified program coordinators (PCs) who really know how to make a house a home for the individuals we support and who can also manage staff effectively,” said Stacy Leger, May’s Talent Acquisition Project Manager. “It’s a lot to ask of a new employee.”

To meet this challenge, members of May’s HR staff and its Cape leadership team began meeting and talking about ways to help new and current employees become effective managers who could successfully fill PC positions on the Cape as they became available.

Initial brainstorming sessions led to the development of the Journey to aMAYzing Manager program. JaMM, as it’s called, is a training designed to help May promote from within. It enables current employees to build on their experience as direct service providers and PCs, become even better at their jobs, and prepare to take on more challenging, higher paying management opportunities. It is also designed to attract and retain new employees seeking to build meaningful careers in human services.

“Employees want a company that will invest in them and in their growth and development,” said Jane Shamaly, Director of Talent Acquisition at May Institute. “When we ask job seekers what they are looking for, training and development and work/life balance top their lists. This program addresses those needs.”

The four-month, multi-phase JaMM training begins with a two-day kickoff. Participants receive a 265-page workbook, an invaluable resource for new hires and seasoned staff as well. They spend their first month working on the section that provides training (or review) on important aspects of the direct care role including ethics, observation, communication, decision making, and documentation. May Institute Assistant Residential Directors who work on the Cape were integral to the development of this workbook.

Mentoring is a key component to the program’s success. During the first week, participants are partnered with mentors who interact with them regularly. They start to build their larger network and support team, which helps them avoid the perils of a “sink or swim” situation in a new, challenging job. JaMM participants know that their mentors and peer supporters will be just a phone call away after they graduate from the program.

Another component of the program is completion of a capstone project. These projects vary, and can be focused on house management or on a professional development plan. All the capstone projects require the participants to present to their peer group and leadership teams.

“My capstone project focused on nutrition,” said PC Linus Eyong, a JaMM graduate. “I talked about my project with my mentor and also reached out to some of the nurses for input. We developed a nutrition booklet that has guidelines for helping the individuals health-wise.”

With two trainings completed and a third underway, the Adult Services team on the Cape and in Southeastern Massachusetts is beginning to feel the impact of the JaMM program. “This type of formal management training is unique in our industry,” says Tom Stanton, Senior Vice President of Adult Services. “We are currently recruiting for newly created ‘Managers in Training’ positions.”

The organization hopes JaMM will become a standard training program across the organization, which currently has approximately 2,000 employees, most of whom are direct care staff.

“In any industry, we know that the better the manager, the better the product,” continues Stanton. “And our product is service to people. When there is a well-trained manager in the home, things happen in a consistent way. In our industry, the individuals directly benefit from that consistency. It’s a win-win.”