Partners for the Future: Martin’s Point IT Staffers Volunteer their time with local ESOL to IT Program

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Martin’s Point Health Care– like many enterprises nationwide– faces some hard truths as they look at the information technology (IT) landscape. Finding qualified candidates to fill open IT positions can be a challenge and building an IT team that can leverage the benefits of diverse perspectives can be even more difficult. In response, efforts to promote diversity in IT training and hiring are gaining ground across the country—and employees at Martin’s Point are working hard to push that effort along in Southern Maine.

Over the past year, a group of Martin’s Point IT staffers has teamed up with a Southern Maine Community College program called ESOL to IT. The program’s goal is to help immigrants find gainful employment in their chosen field– information technology – here in Maine while feeding qualified candidates to Maine businesses that need IT support.

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ESOL to IT students at PeletonLabs in Portland, Maine

Jim Vernier, Manager of IT Service Operations at Martin’s Point, had been in conversation with SMCC about the ESOL to IT program just as his department’s team was looking for a new project.

“We had already started a talent pipeline with SMCC to help manage our Help Desk, so we had that experience to build on. Plus, I knew the IT department was passionate about increasing team diversity. It seemed like the perfect fit.”

Bridging cultures, creating opportunities

Along with Vernier, Charlie Chandler, business intelligence reporting analyst; and Molly McKechnie, clinical informatics analyst are key players from Martin’s Point, supported by a team of ten other IT staffers. Chandler and McKechnie prepare and present lessons to the ESOL to IT learners, demystifying the American workplace, explaining what to expect in the hiring process, and conducting mock phone screens and interviews.

Most SMCC participants in the ESOL to IT program are asylum seekers between age 30 and 45—with extensive education and work experience—though some are younger. They devote three hours of training, four evenings a week to English-language learning, job-readiness training, plus professional networking, job shadowing and IT education.

The SMCC learners come from across the globe, from Afghanistan to Burundi to Haiti. All have either a strong IT background or high aptitude for IT work. The program received 105 applications for the first 20 spots, with future candidates lined up and eager to start.

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ESOL to IT students at Sanford Regional Technical Center

“Most every learner I’ve met has the quality, skills, and passion I’d want to see to hire them, but they have huge gaps in verbal communication, which is critical,” says Vernier.

“Some of these people know every coding language you can think of and speak as many as five languages,” adds McKechnie. “Communicating in English and learning our culture are their biggest barriers.”

Beyond building technical and communication skills, simply interacting with American volunteers adds an intangible that’s equally valuable in putting the newcomers more at ease. “Sometimes learners get isolated in their own communities,” explains David Zahn, ESOL and Global Language Chair at SMCC. “Work-readiness lessons and experiences help them understand the people they might work with, relieving a lot of apprehension.”

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Martin’s Point’s Jim Vernier and Charlie Chandler with  SMCC’s Valerie Green

New perspectives, new solutions

With the long-term goal of reaping the benefits of a more diverse IT workforce—not just for Martin’s Point, but for the state—McKechnie and Chandler realize change won’t happen overnight. “Our results might be 10 or 15 years out, but it’s worth the time and effort,” says McKechnie. She and Chandler have experienced working in different parts of the country—McKechnie in Atlanta, Chandler in Chicago—and they’ve experienced the value of bringing a variety of views to the table.

“Considering different perspectives makes everybody stronger,” says Chandler, noting that a diverse group is more likely to present solutions that don’t all look the same. “It’s hard to put a value on it,” he adds, “but it changes the way you think and solve problems.”

During a mock phone screen, Chandler asked one learner to tell him about his least favorite job. The answer surprised him: “I don’t have a least favorite because every job offers something to learn from and makes you better.”

“That’s the kind of new perspective diversity can bring,” says Chandler. “And it leads to new approaches and solutions.”

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ESOL to IT students at SMCC

Keeping the IT pipeline primed

Unemployment in Maine is low, and our workforce is aging. Nearly half of Maine’s private workers are age 45 or older. Fast forward 20 years and at least 40% will be at or past retirement age. “We simply have to grow this pool [of workers] to keep business running,” says Charlie.

It’s no small thing to have a hand in shaping the future of your team and your company. “We’re really engaged with the SMCC program, and we want to keep it that way,” notes Jim. “We get to add our vision and guide the future by shaping the programs.”

Chandler sums it up best. “It’s a feel-good story, it’s the right thing to do, and it solves a business problem.” Who could ask for more?

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