“Was there a better chance for us as a corporate citizen to
really help make a difference in the city of New Orleans? Could
we bring people who were unemployed or underemployed into a
career pathway?” Sparks recalls the team members asking each
So they developed a pilot program in partnership with Delgado Community College and with the assistance of a grant and
expertise from New Orleans Works, a program of the Greater
New Orleans Foundation.
The pilot was such a success that Ochsner now has a dedicated workforce development team and is expanding specialized
training programs to fill other high-demand positions.
“That is a big win for the organization because we end up
with highly engaged employees on the front line because we’re
investing in our people,” Sparks says.
As employers around the world grapple with the shortage
of qualified workers and the much-debated skills gap, Sparks
and her team are going “all in” to ensure that the employees at
Ochsner are ready and able to address work-related challenges
that come their way. She is one of many HR professionals dedicated to improving and retaining their organizations’ greatest
“All In” is the theme of the Society for Human Resource
Management (SHRM) 2017 Annual Conference & Exposition, which takes place June 18-21 in New Orleans. In an era of
constant change, HR professionals are playing a critical role in
Warehouse workers Dac Tran, left, and Than Nguyen study English with instructor Susan Hogan during an
onsite class at Stavis Seafoods in Boston.
About half of the family-owned company’s 65 warehouse workers are immigrants whose first language isn’t English, which posed a communications
challenge. “We’ve always felt that if our
employees were more fluent in English,
they could do their jobs more effectively,”
Four hours a week, 18 warehouse workers step away from their jobs inspecting
and packing seafood to study English.
The classes are free and onsite—the result
of a partnership that the Boston wholesaler has with the nonprofit Jewish Vocational Service.
As workers become more fluent, they
What Made It Work
are able to contribute more to their jobs,
sometimes in unexpected ways. For exam-
ple, their supervisors learned that many
Spanish-speaking employees came from
fishing villages in their native countries
and could offer advice on how to better
pack the seafood. “They were familiar
with fish, but we didn’t know that until we
started the classes,” Cohen says.
Cohen’s first two attempts to provide
English classes failed. The difference this
time is that he partnered with someone
who was willing to learn the business, he
says. The nonprofit’s program manager
toured the facility and studied the workers’ jobs. She suggested ways for managers to boost their employees’ confidence
in using their new language skills. And
she took the administrative burden off
Cohen, hiring teachers and helping apply
for a state grant.
Simple changes made a difference,
too. They now refer to the program as
“English training” instead of “English
classes,” which helps both employees and
managers think of language learning as
work-related and mutually beneficial.
The employees are grateful and under-
stand that they need English to advance.
“It has definitely boosted their enthu-
siasm and morale,” Cohen says. “We’re
providing them with opportunities for
growth and development, which we
regard as one of the key elements of
Find a good partner who knows what a
blue-collar workforce wants and needs
and will work with you. Get the supervisors involved and enthusiastic about the