American Journal of Health Research
Volume 4, Issue 2-1, March 2016, Pages: 37-43

Utilizing the Stages of Change Model to Design an Employment Readiness Training Program for High Risk Workers: A Collaborative of Community-Based Human Service Professionals and Health Sciences Educators

Jewel Goodman Shepherd1, Kaprea F. Johnson2, Koren Goodman3,
Reverend Sylvia Copeland-Murphy4

1College of Health Sciences, Old Dominion University, Norfolk, Virginia, USA

2Darden College of Education, Old Dominion University, Norfolk, Virginia, USA

3College of Education and Human Services, Montclair State University, Montclair, New Jersey, USA

4SCM Vision, Incorporated, Suffolk, Virginia, USA

Email address:

(J. G. Shepherd)
(K. F. Johnson)
(K. Goodman)
(R. S. Copeland-Murphy)

To cite this article:

Jewel Goodman Shepherd, Kaprea F. Johnson, Koren Goodman, Reverend Sylvia Copeland-Murphy. Utilizing the Stages of Change Model to Design an Employment Readiness Training Program for High Risk Workers: A Collaborative of Community-Based Human Service Professionals and Health Sciences Educators. American Journal of Health Research. Special Issue: Integrating Interprofessional Collaborations in Health Services Research. Vol. 4, No. 2-1, 2016, pp. 37-43. doi: 10.11648/j.ajhr.s.2016040201.15

Received: October 27, 2015; Accepted: October 28, 2015; Published: June 21, 2016


Abstract: Numerous factors and barriers remain a challenge for high risk workers. Programs that currently exist target self-sufficiency, yet there remains an unemployment rate that is reflective of the need to eliminate cyclical joblessness. Maintaining meaningful employment is the goal for high risk workers as well as mentoring, guidance, and prolonged engagement. Counselors are needed to promote engagement in positive employment training and life-long career development. This manuscript describes a job training program focused on assisting clients in gaining long term employment using a modified version of the Stages of Change as a theoretical framework.

Keywords: Readiness Training Program, High Risk Workers, Human Service Workers


1. Introduction

There are numerous factors impacting under skilled high risk workers from being successful in the workforce (Mekinda, 2012). High risk workers encapsulates those persons who have unequal access to both jobs and job training programs, are less skilled, have been displaced and experience long-term job loss, and bear some disproportionate burden of sociodemographic identification including age, race, gender and income (Katz, 2014). Job loss among experienced and dislocated workers remains a challenge and is compounded by insufficient options for the unskilled (Katz, 2014). Although programs are geared to high risk workers, their access to job training, skill improvement, career development and employment search opportunities remain limited (Katz, 2014). Program implementation and integration should be geared toward reducing the number of barriers this population faces in the employment market. There are copious programs available with proven success, yet there remains a high rate of unemployed and unemployable persons who lack both hard and soft skills that further limit their marketability in the job search (Dworsky, 2011). Although maintaining meaningful employment is the goal, these high risk workers require an experience beyond just supervisor–employee. They are in need of mentoring, guidance, and prolonged engagement where they are afforded advice and alignment with individuals who promote positive on-going employment training and development (Mekinda, 2012).

2. High Risk Workers

High risk workers include young workers, minority workers, under skilled, and other hard to reach persons in the workforce who are considered vulnerable for varied reasons. For the purpose of this article, high risk workers will be defined as those persons who have been convicted of offenses that limit their marketability for employment, and those who have limited education, particularly those who do not have a high school diploma or GED equivalent, those who have a history of sickness absence and prolonged periods of unemployment and subsequently transition to disability, and those who are predicted as having psychological challenges (Audhoe et al., 2012).

This population is critical to the workforce because the unemployed are more likely to have absences when employed for short periods of time or have no security in their flexible assignments with temporary or contracting agencies. This is a cyclical issue because this subgroup seeks temporary work and yet temporary work makes them a vulnerable group which in turn results in psychological challenges (Audhoe et al., 2012). There has been success in reducing mental stress and psychological unease among the unemployed with participation in vocational interventions and work programs (Audhoe et al., 2012). The mindfulness of employment uncertainty is the precursor, co-existent and consequence for many of the health issues among high risk workers. Factors such as health expectations, employment stability and personal demographics manifest and impact fixed term and non-fixed term job status (Audhoe et al., 2012). For instance, unemployment is associated with poorer health status; economic issues related to not re-engaging include costly imprisonment and increased likelihood of recidivism; and employment programs that focus on building skills, knowledge and support systems are imperative to promoting self-sufficiency (Johnson, 2013). The following manuscript describes a program for high risk workers to illustrate the need for communities to re-invest in these individuals through job training programs focused on building skills and social capitol.

3. Job Training

Job Corps, National Guard Youth ChalleNGe, and YouthBuild are established federally funded job training programs designed to reduce unemployment barriers among low-income youth (Dworsky, 2011). All three programs provide environments conducive to self-sufficiency and access to vocational training to become employable in today’s society (Dworsky, 2011). Research has shown success with workers when they are trained for a specific job and skill set. The Green Jobs Act, introduced in 2007, provided avenues for job training programs with an interest in sustaining the green economy and environmental restoration (Falxa-Raymond, Svendsen, & Campbell, 2013; Wagner, 2013). Falxa-Raymond and colleagues (2013) examined participants’ experiences, attitudes, behaviors, and transition to employment following participation in a green jobs training program in a large metropolitan area. Study participants were predominately male, African American, with at least a high school diploma at program entry. The training program targeted those young adults experiencing a disconnect from the workforce. Participants received a stipend and were introduced to an environmental restoration skill set. Study results showed that nearly all participants acquired a new skill set as a result of participation. Additionally, the results of the study show a need to offer soft skills training and components that address personal challenges as a component of the program (Falxa-Raymond et al., 2013).

Research has shown success with workers when they are trained for a specific job and skill set. The contributions to the literature show that single curriculum training exceeds historical job training programs (Aspen Institute, 2002; Osterman, 2007; Mekinda, 2012). Single curriculum training includes specialized vocational certification at an individualized pace to promote success in job placement upon completion (Mekinda, 2012). An example of such a program is the JobCorps, in this job training program participants are expected to complete the high school diploma or equivalent and industry specific trade. Job Corps is considered one of the more comprehensive federally funded job training programs as it offers access not only to vocational training but also additional resources that promote self-sufficiency such access to healthcare, meals, counseling and marketability for increase employability (Mekinda, 2012). The Department of Labor conducted an evaluation to compare employment and earnings with crime involvement and welfare benefit receipt and found that participants of the program were significantly more likely to be employed and earning higher wages than their counterparts (Mekinda, 2012). In addition, Osterman (2007) reports that to successfully compete for employment, an individual is required some minimal skills and most lack the basic skill set to do so. The level of skill requirement is increasing in industry, putting the unemployed and unemployable at a further disadvantage without single curriculum training programs geared for their success and focused workforce entry (Osterman, 2007). Furthermore, there are fewer public sector services that offer job training programs specific to the needs of the current industry (Osterman, 2007; Goldstein, Lowe & Donegan, 2012).

There is a large pool of technology-based firms that require specifically skilled laborers, but they do not exist (Goldstein et al., 2012). Industry leaders have had to become creative in building their workforce by training their in-house workforce well beyond a basic curriculum and building collaborations with educational institutions to shape the type of trained staff required for their organization’s productivity. Again the access high risk workers have to these training opportunities are limited. Job training in the community, through community agencies, in collaboration with human service workers are key to the success of this population. Re-investing in young, minority, under skilled and other hard to reach persons require strategic, practical training programs to address barriers and assist these individuals with becoming productive citizens of the communities in which they live by focusing on job training and self-sufficiency.

4. Theoretical Framework

A modified version of the Stages of Change model was used for the development of this job training program. The precontemplation, contemplation and preparation constructs were utilized (Riegelman, 2010). It is believed the action and maintenance constructs are to be reserved for the participant to apply for positions, begin working and maintain employment for those constructs to be equivocally examined. The precontemplation stage is the foundation for building success in the later stages. It is rare that change is considered even possible at this stage. Individuals are able to recognize efforts and will therefore know where to return for assistance when needed. The contemplation stage requires the individual to consider the benefits and barriers to implementing a change in behavior. Individuals are able to establish baselines and short- and long-term goals. They are further able to determine the severity of their circumstance and how to measure progress moving forward. The preparation stage allows the individual to develop an action plan if they have been receptive of the earlier stages. Timelines, techniques and strategies are important to this success of this stage. The most unpredictable challenge at this phase is having a plan to address barriers before they can consume the plan of action (Riegelman, 2010).

5. Program Description

The program is called YWHDW: Yard Work is an Honest Day’s Work. The overarching goal of this program is to meet current and future employment needs by training and educating high risk workers in any given geographical area by enhancing the skills training with interactions and instructions from reputable lawn care and landscaping businesses who utilize the OSHA guidelines for training and daily operations. The objectives of this job training program are to enable trainees to secure long term economically gainful employment; to encourage participation in the established training protocols of the OSHA guidelines for such jobs commencing at entry level; and to equip high risk workers with the skills, knowledge, and support systems which could lead to self-employment/independent contractor status. This job training program will focus on training high risk workers for landscaping careers.

Landscaping or professional gardening occupational hazards awareness is important because it helps with hazard reduction and it teaches the skill of protective strategizing (Knibbs, 2014). Because a careful and efficient manner is required in landscaping, the participant population will also learn how to better protect its environment from potential dangers. There are functional purposes of professional landscaping that can limit occupational exposure and injury and promote safeguards to minimize injury and mortality (Knibbs, 2014).

6. Goals of the Program

At the completion of the training program participants will have an increased knowledge of how to communicate potential occupational hazards in professional landscaping. Particularly the classroom training will offer lecture series on how to better understand the impact of verbal and non-verbal communication and how to interact using different forms of communication that result in a better understanding and in being understood. Participants will have increased knowledge of critical thinking. The participants will be provided information and techniques on how to better evaluate information and then carefully apply reasoning to make more informed choices. Participants will have an increased knowledge of information literacy. The classroom training will offer a lecture series on how to better recognize when more information is needed, how to locate that information and use it effectively.

Participants will receive information on personal development. They will have an increased understanding of how to strive for self-sufficiency and increase healthful living, emotional maturity and self-correcting methods. Not all organizations are designed to genuinely support the employee who needs assistance in reducing life conflict (Kossek, Hammer, Kelly & Moen, 2014) that impacts his work attendance, attitude and ethic. These conflicts and the accompanying stress are a growing public health concern and tend to have a global impact (Kossek et al., 2014). The interconnectedness of work, family life, and stress are associated with poor outcomes in physical health, mental health, and behavioral health. As a result, workplace safety has become an issue and whether it is a direct outcome due to disregarded evaluation of organizational dilemmas, there must be a new approach to increasing safety training for employees, particularly high risk workers. For this reason, participants will have counselors available to assess both announced and unannounced needs and facilitate the utilization of community-based resources (Hovestadt, Fenell & Canfield, 2002). Lastly, participants will have a better understanding of the Fundamentals of Landscape; particularly, the cyclical impact of tree care and landscaping and gardening on the physical environment. It is important to tailor employment intervention program goals to the stage of change where an unemployed person finds themselves. The more advanced stage of change may require a structured plan for work hours, while a more preliminary stage of change may require interaction and dialog about the benefits of returning to work (Braathen, Brage, Tellnes & Eftedal, 2013).

7. Program Logistics

The following section outlines the proposed program logistics and provide an example of them applicability of the theoretical framework, the overall goals of the training program, and a simulation of the weekly layouts with a program participant.

8. Purpose

The purpose of this job training program is to meet current and future employment needs by training and educating high risk workers in an urban area, although this program can deploy in rural, suburban, and urban environments. The objective is to enhance the skills training with interactions and instructions from reputable lawn care and landscaping businesses who utilize the OSHA guidelines for employee training and daily operations.

9. Barriers to Training

One of the more essential steps in transitioning individuals and families into self-sufficiency is identifying and modifying barriers to access (HUD, 2014). Because active engagement and full participation in a program can be an onset problem, persons who may have disorganized lives with low motivation, limited skills, low social support require additional attention. A study of high risk mothers’ engagement in parenting programming found those most in need were developmentally non-ready for active participation and required special strategies to promote enrollment at recruitment and motivation once enrolled (Chablani & Spinney, 2011).

This program will offer in addition to the training component, a monetary stipend, refreshments / meals during the training session, childcare services, and transportation to the training facility. The training facility will be housed at a local faith-based organization with functioning and licensed operational logistics currently in place. Each day refreshments and beverages prepared by the kitchen staff will be offered to participants at no cost. Daily sessions will begin at 10am and end at 2pm, with a boxed lunch provided at 12noon. Childcare services will be offered onsite to participants. A licensed childcare provider is housed at the training facility. Lastly access to computers will be made available to train on effective use and as a tool of the training exercises. Participants have been found to be unable to apply for some jobs due to the requirement of online only application processes, and therefore the skill of self-directed job searches must be explained and promoted.

There is a single Workforce Development Center located in most moderately sized cities. The limitations in funding promote self-directed job searches on internet based resources. Individuals not technologically inclined remain unable to engage in the programs and services. This inadequate usability reflects a need for more vocational training led by trainers not just computer based for certain populations that lack the skill set for internet-based servicing. A second barrier to training is transportation. This job training program would need to provide transportation to and from the training site because there may be limited access to public transportation.

10. Recruitment and Requirements

Participants will be recruited and enrolled over a 90 day period. Recruitment will occur through a flier, a potential participant invitational letter, and individual contact with potential participants during office visits to the local Department of Social Services, the local Redevelopment and Housing Authority, the local Free Clinic, the local Workforce Development Center, the local staffing agencies, the local barber and beauty salons and the host faith-based entity. Fliers will also be distributed to these locations. Recruitment will occur and enrollment will continue until the first fifteen (15) participants are enrolled. During the enrollment session, participants will complete the informed consent document, the electronic authorization release form, and the application for participation. Participants will receive $50 for each week of training; completion of all four weeks of training will yield a participant a $200 stipend at the end of the training program, if completed successfully. Successful completion will require the participant to be present and active in the four days of training each month for the six months; in addition to an introductory meeting and a concluding ceremony and two days of field experience for a total of 28 meetings.

11. Delivery of Program Content

During the course of six (6) months, participants will attend a total of 26 sessions to build their knowledge in three (3) main areas: Personal Development and Support; Vocational Training and Field Experience; and Self-Directed Competencies Training. Experts in the local area will be invited to present the material to include the following: a workforce services and cooperative education specialist employed at a local community college level; a self-sufficiency specialist employed at a local department of social services; and a local self-made entrepreneur who is owner and operator of a professional gardening, tree trimming and lawn care service and a property management investment firm in the area.

12. Program Activities

The job training program plan will have three (3) sub-sections. Section I, Personal Development and Support; Session II, Vocational Training and Field Experience; and Session III, Self-Directed Competencies Training.

Section I focuses on the precontemplation stage of the model. The Personal Development and Support session is important to engaging with the individual and offering a support system. In a study of persons not currently employed, results revealed that in the precontemplation, individuals may not be considering behaviors that are supportive of actively returning to work (Braathen et al., 2013). Change is not expected at the precontemplation phase, however, the individual will recognize where to return for assistance as the program and life’s circumstances move forward.

Section I includes the following schedule of activities:

Week 1: Personal development & Growth (Exploring barriers and resilience in our personal lives and lived history)

Week 2: Career Exploration through Vocational Aptitude Testing

Program participants will engage in career exploration and complete vocational aptitude testing. Specifically, participants will take the newly revised Strong Interest Inventory and the Virginia Education Wizard Career Assessment (Case & Blackwell, 2008; Virginia Education Wizard Career Assessment, 2014). The later, assesses skills, values, and work related interests. Both of these assessments are at least an 8thgrade reading level and can be used to initiate the career exploration process. Interpretation will be provided by a human service worker during the group session and individual appointments can be set to further discuss outcomes.

Week 3: Behaviors for Success / Securing and Maintaining Employment

Program participants will be provided information on lifestyle management, professionalism, and lifelong learning.

Week 4: Goal Setting Time Management

Program participants will articulate the steps in developing and implementing personal and professional goals to include short-term, intermediate, and long-term; and identify strategies for managing time effectively.

Week 5: Learning Styles and Interpersonal Communication

Program participants will be provided information on guidelines for effective communication, verbal and non-verbal communication barriers, how to engage in active listening and the impact of the nonverbal message; and information related to note-taking methods, study environments, and preferred learning styles.

Week 6: Learning Styles and Interpersonal Communication, continued

Week 7: Ethical Responsibilities / Decision Making

Program participants will be provided information on the purpose of being ethical, how ethics influence decisions, and note the guiding principles of ethical behavior.

Week 8: OSHA Workplace Requirements, Policies, and Protocols

Program participants will be provided an overview of general resources and important policies and regulations regarding OSHA workplace practices.

Week 9: Motivational Seminar for Section I CAPSTONE

This section is the culminating experience for program participants intended to integrate and apply the knowledge gained in previous sessions. A significant portion of this session is spent actively engaging the participant in transitional activities to their learned vocational training.

Section II focuses on the Contemplation construct of the Stages of Change model. The Vocational Training and Field Experience session is important to engaging an individual in actively planning to return to work in the near future (Braathen et al., 2013). The Vocational Training and Field Experience will include the following schedule of activities:

Week 10: Introduction to Plant Classification

Week 11: Proper Soil Selection

Week 12: Management of Turfgrass

Week 13: Identification and strategies for weeds and insects management

Week 15: Trees: Basic Pruning Techniques

Week 16: Farm-based Education / Urban Agriculture

Week 17: Gardening for Food Resources / Vegetable Production

Week 18: Field Training / Observation Training

Week 19: Section II Technical Skills CAPSTONE

This section is the culminating experience for program participants intended to integrate and apply the knowledge gained in all sessions. A significant portion of this section is spent actively engaging the participant in transitional activities to the field training.

Section III focuses on the Preparation construct of the Stages of Change model. At this stage, individuals are expected to make plans to begin work or for their return to work. Specifically, individual have higher self-efficacy and are effectively progressing through the change processes and stages. This stage involves seeking out information and evaluating abilities to engage at an even greater level (Braathen et al., 2013).The Self-Directed Competencies Training section is included to promote and increase knowledge of the concept of self-sufficiency and program participants will engage in self-directed competency training sessions. These sessions will include information on job readiness, renewing the family unit and civic responsibilities. This section will include the following schedule of activities:

Week 20: The Business of Family and Self-Sufficiency

Week 21: Completion of Participant Evaluations

Week 22: Financial Planning: Spending and Saving

Week 23: Resume, Cover Letter and Job Application Workshop

Week 24: The Art of Interviewing

Week 25: Motivational Seminar: Investing in yourself, becoming a better you

Week 26: Section 3 Self-Directed Competencies Training CAPSTONE

This section is the culminating experience for program participants intended to integrate and apply the knowledge gained in all sessions. A significant portion of this section is spent actively engaging the participant in transitional activities for self-sufficiency. The materials to be utilized will be from existing workforce development programs available in community college and local departments of social services self-sufficiency modules.

13. Evaluation of Training Experience

Active participation and completion of the proposed job training program as well as self-regulation and job placement will be evaluated to determine the impact of program outcomes (Mekinda, 2012; Falxa-Raymond et al., 2013). Improved support engagement in career development and long-term benefits such as employment and wages earned will be solicited in the form of qualitative open ended questions posed to participants at the conclusion of the training. Those questions will be formulated as such in the following categories: effectiveness of the overall training in terms of improving employability; attitudes toward stages of change; and employment stability in terms of wages, relationship with supervisor and colleagues as well as organizational behaviors.

Program participants will complete evaluation forms to rate their experience in the program components. Because there will be a first group and then a second group, it is expected that the comments from the first group’s evaluations will be incorporated into the program planning and implementation for the second group to improve the experience.

Program staff will follow-up with participants at three months, six months and one year after program completion to offer social support and access to resources. The access to data over time will allow researchers the capability of examining the findings to determine the indicative effects of program effectiveness short- and long-term.

14. Discussion

Implications for Human Service Workers

Human service workers are a regulated and nationally recognized profession of helpers (Hinkle & O’Brien, 2010). Characterized as interdisciplinary professionals able to work in partnership with a variety of other generalists, Human service workers promote positive change in an individual’s functioning. As part of the National Organization of Human Services (NOHS), practitioners are held accountable to a high standard of conduct, integrity and quality of service provided as interveners. The competencies include an ability to empower individuals, communicate, assess, network, facilitate, educate, document and provide support both during crisis and in the progression of existence (Hinkle & O’Brien, 2010). This program fits in with these competencies by identifying those interventions that will empower individuals from youth to elders to assume leading roles on their respective paths to achieve and sustain self-sufficiency.

Vocational rehabilitation is one of the settings where human service workers, as identified by the Southern Regional Educational Board (SREB), are defined as able to support the facilitation, implementation and coordination of change for individuals at varying levels of progression in their life cycle (Hinkle & O’Brien, 2010). As behavior change agents, human service workers have roles that involve the provision of advocacy, evaluation, planning, caregiving, administration and education in service networks for individuals from youths to elders (Hinkle & O’Brien, 2010). With the curriculum and guidelines provided in this proposed job training program, human service workers can employ this framework at almost any organization. Using the skills of collaboration and networking, human service workers are capable of garnering community support and impacting the behavior of and policy for high risk workers (Hinkle & O’Brien, 2010). Implementation of frameworks that give individuals gradual stages of change in their development promotes the idea that social policy and human behaviors are sometimes equally accountable for social problems and therefore must be equally responsible for change.

15. Conclusion

Over the past decade, job intervention programs have become important to providing a hopeful focus for high risk workers (Katz, 2014). Community-based programs taking a lead to initiate single curriculum training benefits this group of workers. As a result, hard to reach unemployed workers can be better prepared for the workforce in varying vacancies. Expanding access to, accountability of, and participation in job training programs is crucial to improving the economic situation of the overall labor market, the cyclical psychological conditions of the unemployed and the success of novel policy to come (Katz, 2014).

This dynamic of having too few job training programs while rates of unemployment increase poses a fundamental dilemma for programs and institutions that have a mission of building futures for young, minority, hard to reach persons (Katz, 2014). Meanwhile it is yet encouraging because these agencies can now be more creative and move beyond the former structures of job training and work to modify the employment training for this population. The workforce training system in the US has varying entry points with differing eligibility criteria further impacted by individual choice based on information that is poorly depicted. To simplify the method, fragmented programs may need to be assessed on applicant criteria, provider-level training modules, worker-level completion and outcomes (Babcock, Congdon, Katz, & Mullainathan 2012; Katz, 2014), such as the balance of work and life. Not all organizations are designed to genuinely support the employee who needs assistance in reducing some of the conflict (Kossek et al., 2014) that impacts his work attendance, attitude and ethic. These conflicts and the accompanying stress are a growing public health concern and tend to have a global impact (Kossek et al., 2014).

Future Research

Further examination and evaluation of employment intervention programs geared toward high risk workers is necessary. The Department of Labor may need to consider making applicable databases of administrative, operational and logistical outcomes available to program evaluation researchers to determine evidence-based practice design implementation strategies. Innovation may call for the establishment of a competitive marketplace of programs where those with long-term success of stable employment and economic gain as a result of participation in a job intervention program. Perhaps under the guise of offering directed services rather than limited and general programs, interdisciplinary professionals can provide more positive involvement and participation in these type of interventions for high risk workers.


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