Putting skills to work: How on-the-job and employee readiness training help California

Petaluma Health Center makes a conscious effort to hire from under-employed and under-served communities.

by Raul Clement

Finding the Right Fit

Great service requires great employees.

This is something that the Petaluma Health Center knows well. Petaluma Health Center is a nonprofit Federally Qualified Health Center providing affordable and quality care to Petaluma, Calif., and the surrounding areas. But to provide this level of care, they need to be a united front.

“Every single employee in this organization is very mission driven,” says Eduardo Soriano, the Human Resources Operation Manager at Petaluma Health Center. “We all want to ensure as much access to as much high-quality, prevention-focused healthcare to the community as we can.”

And how do they ensure that everyone who works at Petaluma Health Center is on the same page? It starts with hiring and training. Petaluma Health Center makes a conscious effort to hire from under-employed and under-served communities, such as the homeless, the impoverished, and job seekers who have long gaps in their employment history. And once they do hire new employees, Petaluma Health Center makes sure they are adequately trained. Quality training leads to a deeper investment in the company, better employee retention, and better service to the community.

But hiring the right person, and then paying for months of training, can be challenging, especially for a nonprofit with limited resources.

This is where Sonoma County Job Link comes in.

On-the-Job Training and Beyond

One valuable tool for local employers looking to hire and develop better employees is on-the-job training. OJT, as it is called, is funded through the Workforce Innovation and Opportunities Act and awarded by local workforce departments such as Sonoma County Job Link. Using this WIOA funding, Job Link is able to pay for 50% of an employee’s training for the first six months, or up to $10,000, whichever comes first. In exchange, the employer is required to retain the employee once the training ends, assuming all requirements are met.

Chris Willover
Employment and Training Program Coordinator
Sonoma County Job Link

This can be a huge boon to employers because it minimizes risk by lowering the initial investment. But Job Link provides more than just a financial safety net.

“All of the individuals that we’ve worked with have been vetted,” says Chris Willover, the Employment and Training Program Coordinator at Sonoma County Job Link. “We’re not going to recommend somebody to an employer, or we’re not going to have a job seeker apply for a position, if we don’t believe that they’re ready.”

Job Link ensures employee readiness in many ways. Job seekers work closely with career counselors, who assess their preexisting skills, needs and interests. They steer them to classes at Petaluma Adult School, arrange bus passes or child care, help them update their resumes, and direct them to job fairs. In other words, they work to remove the many barriers under-served communities typically have toward employment.

And this readiness counseling pays off.

“I can’t think of a situation where we haven’t hired somebody that Sonoma County Job Link has referred to us,” says Eduardo Soriano. “They vet them really well. The people that they’re suggesting or referring to us are great professionals.”

Unique Discoveries

Sometimes these “great professionals” don’t come from the expected places. Chris Willover talks with pride about an individual who started working at Petaluma Health Center last May. Prior to his hiring, this individual had lost his job, gone through a divorce, lost his house, and depleted all his savings on lawyer fees. He was living at a homeless shelter in Petaluma called COTS.

Despite his difficult circumstances, however, this individual was well qualified to work. He had a Bachelor’s of Computer Science from a good university, as well as various certificates and job experience in the field of IT. For these reasons, COTS saw him as a candidate for assistance from Job Link. As part of their Homeless Employment Program, Job Link has partnered with organizations such as COTS and other local shelters and nonprofits to form this type of referral network.

“He worked with one of our counselors for between two and three months,” says Willover. “Working on some self-assessment, taking our workshops. He was working on his resume, working on job leads, just kind of building up that confidence and getting him ready to reenter the workforce.”

Eventually he landed an interview with Petaluma Health Center. Because he had been vetted and prepared by Job Link, Petaluma Health Center felt comfortable that he would be a good fit. They hired him into their IT department at $36.06, the highest starting wage a job seeker has ever procured through Job Link. Half of his initial training, or $18.03 an hour for 554 hours, was paid for by Job Link. Once he completed the training in May of 2022, he was hired on full-time.

“He was able to get his own apartment shortly after,” says Willover. “I think it took him a good six to 10 weeks. But he was able to save some of that money and get himself an apartment. So I think that, to me, is probably the highlight of this entire story.”

And how does this individual feel about his new job? While he was hesitant to share his story publicly, he wanted to stress that he loves the freedom and trust Petaluma Health Center gives him. He works from home, on a variety of projects from scripting to database work to developing a new outage notification system.

“They give me projects and kind of set me loose,” he said. “I do my research and put my skills to work. There’s a lot of support from the team.”

A Win-Win

Skilled employees putting their skills to work: this is as good a way as any to sum up what Sonoma County Job Link makes possible. It’s a relationship that helps everyone involved. Employers like Petaluma Health Center get quality employees, job seekers with barriers to employment find meaningful and high-paying jobs, and the community is better for it.

To find out more about Sonoma Job Links, visit https://joblinksonoma.org. To learn more about the California Workforce Association, including links to local workforce development boards, see https://calworkforce.org/