CASE STUDY: AmeriCorps Equips 90 Temporary Staff Members for Success with Midyear Virtual Group Training Sessions
When AmeriCorps set out to ensure its temporary members were equipped for success following their work terms, they contacted us to provide virtual corporate skills training sessions.
THE CHALLENGE – Equip 90 temporary staff members with new professional skills that they can put to work during their term with AmeriCorps and also pair with their volunteer experience in order to secure new opportunities following their terms.
- AmeriCorps needed help in equipping its 90 temporary staff members with valuable professional skills they can use both during and following their term of service
- The team ended up needing to make a fast transition from a scheduled in-person event to a virtual event due to COVID-19
- Their primary goal was to Renew relationships among temporary staff members during midyear training session
AmeriCorps members are dedicated to relieving the suffering of those who have been impacted by natural disasters. And to do so, they rely on the support of a team of temporary staff members who work one-year terms with the organization. These staff focus on disseminating emergency preparedness information and even providing immediate assistance to victims of a disaster.
During its annual midyear training period, AmeriCorps gathers its entire team of temporary staff for a week of professional development seminars aimed at both helping them during their term with the company as well as equipping them with skills they can use when they leave AmeriCorps.
“Halfway through our members’ terms, we host our midyear training,” explains Cristian Verdin, Program Manager. “What that entails varies depending on our different programs we enlist, but it’s generally a time for us to help renew relationships between members and also to bolster our members’ professional capacities so they’ve got even more skills when they leave us.”
Matthew Clackett, Recruitment and Capacity Member, elaborates further.
“It’s part of what we call Life After AmeriCorps,” he says. “It’s our way of helping members to get prepared for the fact that their time with us is a set term length that will eventually end, and they’ll move onto something else. And they go into a lot of different things so the professional development training we do is really valuable to them – but it also has to be pretty general.”
The team at AmeriCorps identified some skills they believed would be valuable for their members to learn and apply both to their time with the organization but also in their long-term careers.
“We were initially seeking to bolster their communications skills so that they could better coordinate with their teams,” explains Cristian. “And also, a lot of our members end up working on teams where many of the people in the team are senior to them. Not senior in terms of authority necessarily, but senior in that they have been volunteers with us for years and years. And now they have a young AmeriCorps member, who is the leader of their team, or is engaging with their team in some way. So, a lot of members were interested in understanding how to manage a team and be a part of a team where there’s that dynamic of working with people a lot older than you or with a lot more experience than you.”
Kyle Radcliff, Recruitment and Capacity Member, adds, “Because it’s a one-year program, all the AmeriCorps members are always new whereas the volunteers have been with us for years.”
Rather than having their program managers coordinate and manage the skills training this year, they opted to give their team a break and instead search for an outside partner.
“Last year, our program managers led the training themselves,” says Cristian. “And as much as they did all they could to prepare, it’s a ton of work to put together. We also felt like it made sense to outsource this to an organization that specializes in delivering this type of training.”
One of the first things that drew the AmeriCorps team to working with Outback Team Building and Training was that they wanted to know exactly what they would be getting.
“Outback did really good job of offering a whole virtual training series,” says Matthew. “While other companies seemed to signal that they did, but it wasn’t obvious. That makes it really hard to know what you’re going to get – whether what you’re about to pay money for is going to be a YouTube video that you can send to all your members or whether there’s actually going to be a facilitator who will come and join them.”
He continues, “I felt like when we looked at the Outback website, the one thing we knew for sure was that a facilitator was going to come in and teach those classes, which is something we wanted.”
And as a non-profit organization, AmeriCorps was also in search of something that would be a cost-effective solution.
Cristian explains, “We were especially drawn to Outback’s current 50% off discounts because, as a non-profit organization, we would’ve had a hard time being able to afford to do this otherwise.”
The team at AmeriCorps was also on a pretty tight timeline when they reached out to us.
Cristian elaborates, “I think we reached out about two or three weeks before the event date.”
And to add an extra layer of challenge to the equation, AmeriCorps, like many other organizations across the world, were forced to adjust their plans abruptly and unexpectedly due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Our event was originally supposed to be done in person,” explains Matthew. “We had planned a whole in-person retreat which we canceled and fully converted into a virtual retreat.”
Cristian adds, “We were prepared to ultimately just scrap training altogether and let the program managers take it upon themselves to build out the entire curriculum from scratch. I’m really glad we didn’t have to move forward with that.”
So, equipped with an understanding of their goals and timeline, it was time for us to help the AmeriCorps team put their virtual skills training programs together.
THE SOLUTION – A flexible, multi-day training seminar that consisted of four programs: Clear Communication, Performance Management Fundamentals, Emotional Intelligence, and Practical Time Management
- AmeriCorps connected with its members to find out what kind of skills they thought to be valuable to them
- The team enlisted four virtual corporate skills training sessions to help equip their temporary members with tools for success
When the AmeriCorps team got in touch with Outback, they were immediately paired up with Emily Thun, their dedicated Employee Engagement Consultant, who set out helping them decide which virtual training programs were the best fit for their needs and goals. Emily worked with Lyndon Friesen, lead facilitator at Ignitor Training and the skill development coach who would lead AmeriCorps’ sessions.
“I really liked the way Emily went about making the proposal,” explains Cristian. “We originally thought we would choose specific programs from Outback’s website. But after our conversations with Emily, I came to understand that those are top-line themes or overviews and that and each individual training session would then be tailored to our specific needs. So, that was really cool as well.”
He continues, “So, we sent Emily the programs we were interested in. Then, she and Lyndon responded with more specific curricula.”
As it turned out, some adjustments were needed in order to ensure the programs worked perfectly for AmeriCorps.
“We originally told Emily that anything would work,” Cristian explains. “Then, when Emily and Lyndon sent the proposal, it actually didn’t work after all because there was a possibility that it could’ve shut out some of our staff in the event that they were deployed to provide on-the-ground support for a disaster.”
He continues, “I think the schedule we initially received had one program on Monday, three times. Then a different class on Tuesday, three times. We were worried because members were likely going to miss full days during the week and so they could’ve missed out on an entire program.”
But one of our brand promises to be flexible and to find solutions for our customers’ challenges. So, after some collaborative tweaking, Emily and Lyndon were able to work with the AmeriCorps team to customize the solutions and the event schedule in a way that worked well for them.
“It was very easy to change it around,” says Cristian. “Lyndon made it very easy. We tweaked it so that there was a variety of classes on each day. I think we even split it up all the way from Monday through Friday and that made it so that members could attend every class that they wanted to. They just had to look at the beginning of the week and pick a time to fit in their own schedule.”
He adds, “Your team was really patient and really flexible and helpful. We appreciated that.”
With their corporate skills training programs selected and their schedule confirmed, all that was left to do was host the sessions. But the AmeriCorps team naturally still held some reservations about whether it would be a success – until they spoke with Lyndon.
“I was really swayed by my conversation with Lyndon,” says Cristian. “Amber, our American program director, and I got on the phone with Lyndon and he just seemed really personable. He clearly knew what he was doing. It was then that our confidence was really inspired. Judging from our interpersonal experiences with Emily and Lyndon, we felt we were in good hands after just a handful of exchanges.”
Matthew concurred, adding, “I agree. I’d say a lot of my nervousness about how smoothly things would go went away once we started formalizing all the scheduling and stuff as well. Once we had course program and schedule laid out, we knew people were going to show up.”
As the week got underway, AmeriCorps’ virtual training programs went off without a hitch.
THE RESULTS – AmeriCorps’ week-long midyear training sessions delivered the results they were looking for, helping build stronger rapports between temporary staff and provide them with valuable professional skills.
- Positive feedback from the customer
- Staff members learned new skills based specifically on their goals
- Improved relationships between members and site supervisors
Matthew, who was both providing support in getting the sessions up and running as well as participating, notes that he took some valuable lessons from the virtual skills training sessions.
He explains, “I definitely got something out of the sessions where Lyndon was talking about how to work with people and the different working styles each person has. It was a big thing for me.”
One of the highlights of the sessions? Lyndon himself.
“I thought Lyndon was great,” says Matthew. “Almost the highlight, honestly. I don’t think we expected that we were going to have the same facilitator for every one of the classes.”
He adds, “If our members wanted to just ask Lyndon a lot of questions about a very specific situation they were dealing with, he was happy to take the time and work through that with them. I think that was good because it allowed members to get out of the sessions as much as they put into it.”
And while the team had hesitations about the virtual aspect of the sessions, these concerns were quickly alleviated once things got underway.
“Going into it, I didn’t have super high expectations just because of the virtual aspect,” Matthew admits. “But I came out of it feeling like it was great. Lyndon was very interactive with it and had a lot of questions.”
He elaborates, “It was a good transition to virtual. I liked that Lyndon came in and used our team’s system instead of us having to ask our entire team to adapt to a different system like Zoom. This was great because I feel like solving one person’s tech problems – for Lyndon to get into our platform – would’ve been a lot easier than having to troubleshoot a ton of tech troubles that members of our team might’ve experienced if they were unfamiliar with Zoom, for example.”
Cristian adds, “It was really easy and streamlined, actually. It was a lot easier than I originally anticipated.”
Feedback from the members who participated has also been a great indicator that the sessions resonated and delivered the desired results.
“When I’ve been talking to members, they’ve said they enjoyed it,” says Cristian. “They’ve told me that they liked it. I talked to certain members who had been able to proactively ask real-world questions and get answers from Lyndon about them, and they really liked that. As Matthew said, some people who were really proactive in participating and put a lot more into it got a lot more out of it and they enjoyed it.”
The virtual skills training sessions also seemed to show a tangible positive impact as well.
“From what I understand, I think relationships have improved between members and their site supervisors,” Cristian says. “I also think my members are a little more responsive these days and I I’m encountering fewer and fewer HR matters. So, that’s really good.”
When the midyear training week was all said and done, the AmeriCorps team was happy with the outcome and even recommended Outback Team Building and Training to other staff within their organization.
“Our members seemed to really enjoy the training and we’ve already have recommended it,” Cristian shares. “I think the programs director reached out to our operations director who may explore booking Outback for one of our all-staff training sessions in the Los Angeles region.”
He adds, “I think especially if somebody was looking for a virtual skills training platform, I’d tell them that Outback is 100% the one you should go for.”