United Way

JobSTAR: Shining a Light on a Brighter Future for Workers, Businesses

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Guest blog by Scott Walker
Success Coach, JobSTAR


Missing work isn’t always about a touch of the flu. In fact, family obligations—caring for a child or sick relative, for example—are among the barriers that can keep people from working. So is lack of reliable transportation, or an unexpected medical crisis. No wonder 48 percent of employees surveyed in the Bright Horizons Modern Family Index said they fear their family obligations could get them fired.

At a time when many social safety nets come with a work requirement, people who work yet struggle financially—a population we call ALICE (Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed)—are under increasing pressure to resolve barriers to work.

That’s the role of JobSTAR, Jackson’s Business Resource Network. JobSTAR (Support, Talent And Retention) embeds a Success Coach at participating businesses who can connect workers with services and support programs that gets them past those barriers.

JobSTAR formed through a partnership including UWJC, Jackson County Chamber of Commerce, Michigan Works! Southeast, Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, and Family Service & Children’s Aid. It is based on similar resource networks that have shown success elsewhere in Michigan and across the nation.

For Jackson County, that Success Coach is me.

I’m working with the first cohort of JobSTAR participants— Industrial Steel Treating Co., Melling Tool Co., Jackson County Intermediate School District, LifeWays Community Mental Health, John George Home, Jackson Friendly Home, and United Way of Jackson County’s enrollment office for CARE (Consumers Affordable Resource for Energy).

My goal is to help people solve problems and keep working. That’s good for them, and it’s also good for businesses. The average cost to a business for each employee turnover is $3,500—not counting the expense of posting and interviewing for a replacement, plus the impact on productivity. Resource networks like JobSTAR have reduced turnover to zero in many communities.

But where I believe the real impact happens is in people’s lives:

  • A pregnant young woman came to me with no health insurance and with past-due medical bills. I helped her to get Medicaid coverage that covered her bills retroactively. Now she can get the prenatal care she and her baby need.
  • A working mom with three children asked me about getting child counseling for emotional issues, as well as help with childcare and several unexpected financial issues. I connected her with Family Service and Children’s Aid and DHHS. Now her kids are doing well, they’re in childcare during her working hours, and she’s taken steps to deal with the financial concerns.
  • One man came to me about food assistance. He’s a full-time employee with a wife and five children, and he simply didn’t earn enough to feed his family. Not only did he get the assistance he needed, his employer recently gave him a raise, so his family is doing better financially.
  • An employee asked about community resources for her adult son, who has a history of addiction. I was able to connect her with counseling resources and a path to help her son find a job.
  • A man with a terminal illness recently found that he could not work anymore. JobSTAR helped him navigate issues with long-term disability, Social Security disability, Medicare and Medicaid. He’s now getting the care he needs in this difficult time.
  • A worker reached out for help in advancing her career. I was able to help her assemble references, do a mock interview and follow up with the employer. She’s waiting to hear the results of her hard work.

Those are just a few examples of how JobSTAR is changing lives, delivering a return for employers and benefitting our community. I’m so proud to be part of this work.

Scott Walker is a 13-year veteran in workforce development, vocational rehabilitation, and employment and training. JobSTAR is building a second cohort of participating businesses. If you’d like to be involved, contact Ebone’ Worthey, United Way of Jackson County, 517-796-5132.