Helping Underserved Adults Develop Careers - Digital Promise

Helping Underserved Adults Develop Careers

December 8, 2016 | By

Joe Andronaco founded Access Green, LLC, with one goal: “To make our world a better place.”

The most obvious way Access Green strives to meet this goal is its environmental focus. Access Green offers green energy solutions for commercial and residential clients, including energy audits and fixes like duct sealing and roof remediation.

But this is not the most powerful part of Access Green’s mission. Their focus on hiring underserved populations, particularly the formerly incarcerated, is how Access Green is truly changing the world one person at a time. In fact, one-third of Access Green’s employees are returning citizens.

Paying It Back

Andronaco hires these employees not for a job, but for a career. Deborah Carroll, Director of the D.C. Department of Employment Services, works closely with Andronaco through Project Empowerment and other workforce development programs. Director Carroll said, “Joe is one of the biggest champions of hiring D.C. residents. Having a strong mentor is what helped him, and he wants to pay it forward.”

Andronaco’s background matches the most elite of business leaders: he graduated from the Wharton School of Business and had a successful career in the strategy department of Washington Gas. He believes deeply that by providing underserved populations some of the same training and support he was fortunate to have, they too can have successful careers.

A Digital Solution for Soft Skills and Job Training

Technology is one of the tools Andronaco uses to provide these career-building opportunities for his employees. He has partnered with Lynsie Hall of OmniLearn to found the Center for Resourceful Learning. Andronaco and Hall are developing an online learning platform for underserved populations, based on the OmniLearn suite of business leadership tools used by top business schools.

The Center’s platform focuses on the workforce development needs of underserved populations. First, the modules consist of micro-lessons to meet adult learners’ busy lives. Learners complete short content lessons then receive text-based reminders of the content and activities applying the lessons.

The platform offers three modules. First, the business skills module consists of the same lessons OmniLearn offers its business school clients. Andronaco and Hall are adding digital supports, such as text-to-speech capabilities and a rollover word defining tool, to support their underserved learners. But, they believe these learners are capable of working through the same leadership skill development.

The Center’s second module is focused on job skills tailored to specific professions. The first iteration is green construction skills, and Andronaco and Hall hope to partner with other fields, such as hospitality and custodial services, to develop additional job skills modules.

The third module is the one Andronaco knows is most important for his employees: mindfulness. Andronaco talks openly about his own past trauma and how he has used mindfulness strategies to learn to understand his emotions and become a more whole person. Painted above the main door at Access Green’s office is the company’s motto: “Integrity: State of being whole and undivided.”

The mindfulness module has lessons tailored to the emotional needs of these people who have also had trauma in their past. Lesson topics include engaged listening, constructive conflict resolution, and adaptability. Once the full learning platform is developed, all of Access Green’s employees, including Andronaco, will be required to complete a personalized learning path on the Center, and they will do this on company time.

Yet, Access Green employees are already completing mindfulness lessons by choice. One recent morning, Andronaco shared with his employees that the engaged listening lesson was particularly hard for him, and Ivy Fauntroy, one of his employees, agreed. As they talked further, it became clear that Ivy was even further along than Andronaco in the lessons, something that made them both laugh. Ivy shared, “You have no idea how this is helping me with my kids.” Other employees chimed in with their own challenges with the engaged listening skills and some of their tactics.

Transforming Lives

This commitment to learning and growing is critical to the success Access Green has with its employees. Director Carroll said Andronaco’s clear commitment to their learning and growth sends a message to his employees: “It’s okay. I just want you to work hard and improve.” Access Green provides a safe environment for people who have been failed by educational systems in their past, and as a result, they are more willing to take the risks they need to succeed.

Ted Trabue, Executive Director of the Green Builders Council of D.C., said it best: “Lots of firms and people like to talk about building a greener future – but, there’s no doubt about it, the folks at Access Green are actually doing it.” The earth’s future is greener because of Access Green, but more importantly, many underserved workers’ futures are also much, much brighter.

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