By Jhansi Waters, TAA State Coordinator, Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry
In the Fall of 2019, Pennsylvania’s TAA Program staff traveled to Oregon for a two-day training to learn more about the Trade Navigator model. We returned fully equipped with new ideas and best practices, to put a plan in motion to create five new positions. Although the pandemic briefly interrupted our progress, by June 2021 we had hired four Navigators ready to hit the ground running. Starting a new job is always intimidating but stepping into an unchartered territory, virtually - during a pandemic - was a huge challenge for our staff. Unlike many new hires who have a reasonable amount of time to learn the ins and outs of a job, our Navigators had to learn their role quickly.
The PA Navigators’ first initiative was the very difficult task to increase engagement with trade affected workers covered under 2020 petitions. For various reasons, trade affected workers simply were not attending the virtual orientations. Because of the low participation numbers, an aggressive goal was set to enroll at least 15% of the workers on each petition. A three-touch strategy was developed to contact roughly 2700 workers. The target included 48 certified petitions that ranged from small to very large layoffs.
Once a worker list is distributed, the written invitation to a Benefits Rights Interview or “BRI” (TAA orientation) is mailed to each worker, this acts as the first touch. Shortly after the session, the worker list is examined to confirm attendance and initial contact with a Career Advisor. Navigators will then compile additional methods of contact information pulled from UI data and our case management system to prepare for the additional outreach for those who did not follow through.
Outreach planning meetings are coordinated with TAA Program staff in the local PA CareerLink® office/s primarily affected by the petition. Partner program staff are included when it is a large layoff. The meetings have been coined as “huddles;” a way to strategize before each outreach campaign. During the huddle meetings, Navigators provide demographics of the affected workers and the certified employer. This strategy is used to assign call lists, establish a timeline, ensure staff have a good understanding of and promote all TAA services. The navigators prepare scripts tailored to the area and petition, so the messaging is consistent. The scripts assist partner staff with providing the best customer service and sharing accurate information to the worker group. Staff are directed to conduct the second and third touch through phone calls, emails, and follow up calls or voice messages when necessary. Unanswered calls are also followed up with an email, if available. If a contact is made, the PA CareerLink® staff follow an outline to pitch all services and benefits and offer to schedule the worker for an appointment. Career Advisors are trained to deliver the TAA orientation one-on-one (in-person) for those who missed a BRI session or will email a link to a recorded video for the worker’s convenience. Progress on the outreach is reported to the Navigators who maintain a comprehensive spreadsheet on a shared drive to track each ‘touch’ and the outcomes.
Although there were several challenges through this effort, some of the insights we’ve gained from the three-touch approach were (1) workers respond favorably to written correspondence (specifically letters), (2) conducting the second ‘touch’ after the orientation invitation but before the actual session is vital to increase attendance and (3) branding content will help our emails appear more credible. Overall, the 2020 project provided outreach to 2700 workers yielding 125 new participants.