For many individuals in recovery, re-entering the workforce is a crucial component of maintaining wellness. In West Virginia, Creating Opportunity for Recovery Employment (CORE), a program within the Addiction Sciences division at the Marshall University Joan C. Edwards School of Medicine, aims not only to help recovering patients find jobs, but to identify sustainable employment situations that fit the individual and present the best chance for long-term success.
The “quality matching over quantity of placements” model has paid dividends for patients and local employers alike, says CORE director Ashley M. Shaw.
At the upcoming virtual Cocaine, Meth & Stimulant Summit, Shaw will discuss the CORE program. Ahead of the meeting, she spoke with Addiction Professional about key aspects of the program, community partner involvement, building trust with employers, and overcoming a shrinking job market in the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Editor’s note: This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
What are some of the keys for creating employment opportunities for the individuals in recovery with whom you’re working?
Our best practices start with three facets. Those components would be participant engagement, community partner engagement, and, of course, business engagement. All of those work together. Workforce programs such as CORE operate by making sure those three components run together at the same time. By that I mean that you have to engage individually with participants as they enroll in the program, assessing their needs, skill set and barriers to employment. The other piece is that you synthesize that information, you pull all of what you’ve learned based on what their needs are, what their goals are, what they want to accomplish in life, and you establish what partners in the community can best serve this individual? Sometimes we have individuals who don’t have a GED, so we will refer them to a community partner who can provide them with tutoring. Sometimes, we run into individuals who need childcare. We’ll refer them to an agency in the community who can provide that resource. All of that is to reduce barriers to employment. The end goal, of course, is to network with businesses in the community to streamline and match individuals based on their skill set, goals, desires and educational background.
Who are the community partners most often involved with your process?
Community partners do include referrals from treatment providers. Referral partners can include any agency that provides a resource to individuals, such as childcare, transportation, education—anything that is a resource or could be a service to the individual, we consider them community partners.
One notable trait about CORE is that it focuses on quality matching over quantity of placement. Tell us a bit about that philosophy and the results you’ve seen from taking that approach.
People are better served if they obtain jobs based on quality vs. saying “hey, I’m just placing you to say you have a job and I can check a box.” When you connect people with purpose, passion and structure, it’s proven that individuals tend to do better in those work environments. It’s our goal to connect people to employment opportunities to meet the goals of purpose and passion versus just placing them in a job for a job’s sake. Individuals are more likely to perform better. They’re more likely to show up to work on time, be more productive and retain the job when they are placed in opportunities that fit the bill or match their skills and where their interests lie versus placing them just to place them. I’ll be honest: A program that operates in that way, being about the program, not helping people, versus CORE—we want to make placements, we want to help people get jobs, we want to see lives change. The way you support individuals being self-sustained and a positive influence in the community is by matching them with their purpose and their passion.
Does that philosophy help you to establish relationships with employers because they know you’re matching them with individuals who are more likely to fit the roles they’re looking to fill?
Exactly. We’ve found that employers trust us more. They understand that if we’re reaching out to them, we’ve screened individuals based on their skill sets and interests. And it’s not just about the position. It’s about the work environment as well. We’re looking for work environments that will support individuals in recovery and that will help them maintain their overall wellness. Businesses do tend to trust us a bit more. It creates a synergy between the two. I can think of several times where we’ve placed people into jobs, and later on, other positions became available in those organizations, and those individuals were promoted. It creates a relationship between CORE, the employer and the community.
What impact has the COVID-19 pandemic had on your work? Has it been more difficult to find employment opportunities for individuals?
Back in March and April, we did see a decline in the number of individuals we were able to place. But I’ll be honest: After things started to open up a bit, we started to steady out. Even though our process is a bit more cumbersome now because we’re operating virtually, we still continue to place individuals into employment. In some regards, that has been more difficult, but in some regards, it has been a little easier. We’ve found sometimes that as businesses were opening back up, employees they had before, they no longer have with individuals deciding they weren’t going back to work or they were managing things at home that hindered them from going back to work. I don’t really focus on COVID. We focus on people and the employers that we serve, and all things will come together, and we’ll find employment opportunities for the individuals we work with.