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  • November 19, 2021 2:11 PM | NENA Admin (Administrator)

    By Hannah Schoenberg, NENA Director
    Employment Network Coordinator | CPWIC
    RAMP

    It has been a long two years and many of you may be feeling the effects of life and work in a pandemic. You may be finding yourself telling your friends and family “I am feeling burned out,” but what you may be experiencing is compassion fatigue. WebMD describes compassion fatigue as the physical, emotional, and psychological impact of helping others, usually through a stressful or traumatic time. You might feel helpless, powerless, hopeless, sad, numb, detached. Compassion fatigue can come on quickly.

    The good news is that compassion fatigue is treatable! Thank you, Dr. WebMD! One of the top suggestions to prevent compassion fatigue is to education yourself on the signs and symptoms. Here are some signs as listed by the American Institute of Stress, Cigna:

    • Emotional: anger, irritability, sense of hopelessness
    • Physical: headaches, stomach pains, hypertension
    • Cognitive: difficulty concentrating, self-blame, low sense of self-worth
    • Behavior: lack of joy, chronic lateness, substance abuse

    To overcome compassion fatigue, you first have to come to terms with what you are feeling and develop a plan to care for your SELF, something that so many of us aren’t used to doing. There is no one size fits all plan when it comes to self-care, but there are a few things we can all do to make sure we are recharging our batteries. Here are some do’s and don’t’s when it comes to self-care:

    Do:

    • Find someone to talk to who will encourage you!
    • Accept that your feelings are valid.
    • Return to or discover new hobbies.
    • Focus on sleep, exercise and diet.
    • Take time away from work.

    Don’t:

    • Make a big decision. This can lead to great stress down the line.
    • Shift blame.
    • Commiserate with others…they say misery loves company, but this will only fuel the fatigue.
    • Seek a quick fix in descriptive behaviors.

    My challenge to you as we enter this holiday season is to carve out time for self-care and hobbies, focus on your family and healthy friendships, and seek professional help if needed. 

  • November 01, 2021 10:27 AM | NENA Admin (Administrator)

    By Donna Osburn, NENA Director
    SSA/VR Coordinator, Kentucky Career Center
    Office of Vocational Rehabilitation

    Can you believe that it’s been over a month since the NENA 2021 Conference? I’m still pondering some of the information that I gleaned and am contemplating ways to implement new ideas. One idea that keeps surfacing is the concept of “engagement.” I wanted to share a few takeaways I had on this topic.

    I was first inspired by the session, “Client Engagement & Retention: Supporting Ticketholders from Intake to Graduation.” This session was full of tips for engaging Ticketholders and generated a lot of interesting comments in the chat. As a State VR administrator, I was primarily interested in discovering what Employment Networks could offer after employment as a way of promoting Partnership Plus. As I listened to the ideas, it occurred to me that some of them might be difficult for a state VR counselor to implement due to time constraints caused by large caseloads and restrictions on purchasing for state/federal agencies. This could be a way for Employment Networks to distinguish themselves from State VR agencies. It could also be an opportunity for partnering. Staff from the Vermont VR agency presented their specialized approach with Ticketholders in “Supporting SSDI/SSI Beneficiaries Transitioning to Self-Sustaining Employment.” Their implementation involved a team approach with a VR Counselor, a Community Rehabilitation Placement Specialist, and a Certified Work Incentive Counselor. Perhaps the team approach Vermont used in their project could be a model for a state VR and an EN to begin their partnership. The few Partnership Plus hand-offs we have achieved are almost always with an agency that is working with the Ticketholder during the state VR case. They build the relationship and then can take over the Ticket assignment after the VR case is closed. It’s a much easier sell.

    While I’m sure that we can agree that engagement is an important consideration for our Ticketholders, we may want to expand on that for others we encounter in our day-to-day business. As turnover continues to be an issue, it’s important to remember the value of our staff and keep them engaged. It’s also important to consider partner agencies, including employers. One helpful session was “The Death of Boring and Unproductive Meetings.” If you must have a meeting, make it count. Keep this in mind for meetings with co-workers, partner agencies, employers, etc. I particularly like the tip about setting goals. One way to get partner agencies involved could be to give them ownership in the meeting. They should be involved in planning and goal setting. This can also be a good plan for our NENA committee meetings. In addition, it occurs to me that Success Stories are not just beneficial for Ticketholders. Reminding staff of why their work matters can go a long way in job satisfaction.

    In today’s world, being able to engage someone virtually is vital. The number of people working remotely has increased drastically since the pandemic, making being able to connect through technology important for us all. Fortunately, there were sessions to address that issue this year. Both “Building Trust Virtually” and “Virtual Onboarding for Remote Team Members” offer up ideas in this area.

    The good news is that these sessions, along with the others that I haven’t specifically mentioned, are still available. The conference information is available to attendees for 60 days post-conference, so it’s not too late to go back and see how else you can be engaged.

  • October 04, 2021 6:32 PM | NENA Admin (Administrator)

    By Angie Howell, NENA Director
    Vice President, Easterseals Nebraska

    There were so many wonderful sessions at the 2021 NENA conference. For those that could join us, we thank you. If you weren’t able to join, we do hope that you will consider attending in 2022. One of the topics that resonated throughout the conference was remote service delivery and how services/scope may have changed throughout the pandemic. How does staff keep pace and how do we keep up with the changing times? More notably, throughout all of this--how do we prevent burnout?


    Responses ranged from acknowledging and combating Zoom fatigue and learning time/data management techniques to streamlining outreach and Ticketholder communications.

    From another angle on burnout, author Jon Gordon states, “We don’t get burned out because of what we do, we get burned out because we forget why we do it." As an Employment Network, you thrive when your Ticketholders embrace their vision. Now more than ever, it is important to focus on helping Ticketholders navigate the complexities of their situations to find a clear path to employment. Add in supportive services such as benefits planning, systems navigation support (housing, transportation, healthcare options to name a few), helping individuals to identify their strengths and offering tips, tools, and friendly reminders help make work and/or job advancement happen.

    And, what better month than October to focus on the mission of ENs to serve job seekers with disabilities! This month, we collectively celebrate National Disability Employment Awareness Month (NDEAM) and the contributions of people with disabilities to America’s workplaces and economy. Boost your Employment Network’s exposure by utilizing free resources to build awareness. The U.S. Department of Labor, Office of Disability Employment Policy, offers a website for ideas and resources for employers, community organizations, state and local governments, advocacy groups and schools to participate in celebrating NDEAM through events and activities centered around the theme of “America’s Recovery: Powered by Inclusion.” The theme reflects the importance of ensuring that people with disabilities have full access to employment and community involvement during the national recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic. Click here for more information on NDEAM messaging, toolkits and resources.

    As an EN, you can also boost your connection to local employers and opportunities for your job seekers by reaching out to industry liaison groups and business disability inclusion organizations, such as DisabilityIN©. Find an affiliate near you.

    Encourage your local employers to partake in NDEAM efforts and build their confidence and competence in hiring individuals with disabilities by sharing employer resources, such as the Job Accommodation Network or Employer Assistance and Resource Network.

    We encourage all of our members to visit the NENA website for additional educational opportunities, and to become a contributing member to and learner from one of the many NENA committees, taking full advantage of all that your NENA membership has to offer.

  • August 19, 2021 9:30 AM | NENA Admin (Administrator)

    By Rachel Hoffman, NENA Director
    Ticket to Work Manager, The Choice Group
     

    It was 3 years ago that I first joined NENA. New to my Ticket to Work role, I decided to jump in with both feet by attending NENA’s Annual National Training Conference. My colleagues were well established in NENA and effortlessly floated in and out of discussions around payment, portals, and program requirements. I, on the other hand, had neither seen a portal nor collected a payment and I was only starting to become familiar with Ticket Program requirements. 

    Many of you have experienced the steep learning curve of becoming an Employment Network or implementing Ticket to Work Programs into your organization. Having been in that position very recently myself, I want to share what I learned at my first NENA training conference and why I love being a part of this group. 

    If you are on the fence about attending the NENA conference – just go!

    I learned more from my first conference than I had learned in a full year of working in my role. The NENA conference gave me the jumpstart I needed to grow in my understanding of the Ticket Program. If you need to come up to speed quickly, the NENA conference will allow you to do that.

    Make NENA connections

    The Annual National Training Conference is a great place to meet other people who you can collaborate with and learn from. I’ve been to many conferences, but few where the participants are so eager to interact with and help each other. Lean into your time at the conference: attend as many sessions as you can and participate in the networking and social opportunities. You will have a great time and beyond that you will find unexpected treasures among our membership!

    At my first conference I met:

    • Creative EN owners who shared ideas for marketing
    • Benefits counselors who helped me understand the goals of the Ticket to Work Program
    • Payment pros who taught me how to increase revenue
    • Ticket Program Manager staff who helped me answer technical questions
    • A database expert who gave me high tech ideas to improve our program efficiency
    • And a few other newcomers who were delightful to share stories with over dinner

    Energize your program

    The atmosphere and energy of the NENA conference are contagious. People are eager to interact, share best practices and even mix and mingle outside of sessions. I gain valuable momentum at each conference and use that momentum to drive our program forward.

    Stay connected

    You will meet people at this conference who you will want to stay connected with year-round. Collect business cards and don’t be shy about reaching out. As SSA sends out updates about program requirements and initiatives, the NENA committee meetings provide a great space to stay connected, ask your questions and get practical answers.  

    It all started because I took the leap and attended one conference. I challenge you to take the leap with me this year. With a virtual platform and reduced conference cost, you may even want to invite additional members of your team. I may know more now about Ticket to Work than I did at my first conference, but I am still learning, and I will never outgrow my need for this community.    

  • July 20, 2021 6:00 PM | NENA Admin (Administrator)

    By Olivia Clawson, NENA Director
    President, Employ-Ability, LLC
     

    Most of us were introduced to O*NET in school and some of us may have never looked at it again. I implore you to pull up www.onetonline.org and take some time browsing the site. I will point you to some key areas in this article as well.

    O*NET is a government funded website that contains every job title and job description that we have in our country minus several held by elected officials. As websites go, I find this to be satisfyingly comprehensive and very user friendly. In the tabs, there is one that says “easy read” which takes you to a sister site called, “My Next Move.” The setup of the page is slightly different, it has fewer words and the print is larger. There is also a version for Veterans and one in Spanish as well.

    You will notice that you can search for a job title on the home page. It does not have to be exact because the listing itself should include alternate job titles. These titles may help to expand the search. In addition, there will be a significant amount of information about what the job involves and what types of skills and abilities are needed to meet the demands. Besides educating about the job, it may assist the client to remember past positions, achievements and training that they may have forgotten. Also, the wording can be used in part in the resume and the cover letter.

    Moving through the links on a listing page, you will find more employee based information, such as, % of people holding that position with levels of education completed. There you will find an interest inventory that enables the client to print off results and decide what level of training they are willing to complete in order to get a job. The inventory permits you to change your answers easily. Doing so, can let clients compare and contrast positions with more or less training required. I always enjoy doing the inventories although I’m never entirely surprised when it comes out “counselor” or “business coordinator.”

    Salary can be determined on this site for your state and zip code and takes into consideration job growth. Thereafter, the site connects to a search engine that lists several job databases for you to choose from. It finishes with recommendations for additional industry research and employment information.

    So far, this is just a piece of the entire O*NET site. What I typically do is review it with my clients who are curious about making a career change or thinking about going to school. They are asked to pour a cup of coffee or hot tea and just allow themselves to dream about what they would like to be doing. Getting the information is empowering and motivating for the clients and assist us in setting concrete goals and objectives for their career goals. Knowledge is power and the only way to address fear is to face it. Your clients will appreciate having a sense of control over their plans and their targeted outcomes.

  • May 24, 2021 5:40 PM | NENA Admin (Administrator)

    Christa Nivens, NENA Director
    COO, EmployReward Solutions, Inc.

    At the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, none of us could have predicted the magnitude of how it would affect daily life for our agencies or our ticketholders.  Now that we appear to be on the upside of things, COVID-19 has presented us with many challenges, but one BIG opportunity… job placement and growth.

    Employers are hiring, and in a lot of cases, scrambling to find people who are willing and able to return to work. This has created a better opportunity for us to help facilitate job placement for our ticketholders. Plus, there’s an additional nugget for marketing the Ticket to Work program to beneficiaries who may have previously been hesitant about testing their ability.

    Because of the demand for employees, employers are rethinking the typical employee benefits are now offering incentives such as:

    • Higher starting pay
    • Sign-on bonuses
    • Shift differentials
    • Vaccine Pay (stipends for getting the COVID-19 vaccine)
    • Scholarships/On the Job Training
    • Childcare Grants

    So how do we find details about career fairs and employers who are hiring?  Simple.  A quick check at the news or search on Google will bring up scores of career fairs and employers who need good candidates.

    So how do we help bridge that gap?

    Marketing is one of the quickest ways to get the word out to your ticketholders.  A quick e-mail, text blast, or social media post can quickly inform clients in targeted areas or across the country of specific career fairs or employers that are hiring close-by

    Another important avenue is to share on your website “breaking news” when you learn of career fairs or employers that are hiring; or develop a calendar that visitors can browse and link back to more information on your findings.

    Partnerships are also a great way to help, whether it’s with job centers, employers, or job boards. The more information you are armed with, the more you have available to share with your clients. With employers being eager to find people who are willing to work, the eagerness can bring about the opportunity to develop some grassroots partnerships.

    Having a quick reference sheet or flyer about your agency that quickly highlights how you can help is a great idea.  Researching companies and networking through platforms such as LinkedIn can also prove fruitful.

    Last, but not least, it is important to assess whether your ticketholders are ready to return to work. Even with the COVID-19 vaccine being available, there is still some anxiety about returning to the workforce for many people. Help your clients feel prepared for the challenge.  Once you have them informed and polished with a resume, and interview practice under their belt, it is time to hit the ground running towards that finish line.  When they succeed, we all succeed!

  • April 27, 2021 7:08 PM | NENA Admin (Administrator)

    By Margo Scoble, NENA Board Member
    Program Director, 
    Managed Career Solutions, Inc.

    Working from home this past year has been challenging. It has brought forth both opportunities and an unfortunate loss of daily contact with my coworkers, beneficiaries and partners. The first two months of stay safe at home seems like a lifetime ago. My sheer lack of ability to understand Zoom, Google hangouts and Microsoft teams. I had used DocuSign for a personal matter once but never for work. It was overwhelming to say the least. That said, we are still standing, and this old dog has learned some new tricks. I have learned all the standard virtual meeting platforms. I participated and presented at the NENA National Conference. We use DocuSign on a daily basis. I am sure as a group we all have become proficient at new programs and platforms.

    The following two paragraphs are directly from a Yahoo Business article by Daniel Howley, Technology Editor on March 22, 2021.

    According to Microsoft’s first-annual Work Trend Index, which surveyed 30,000 people from 31 countries, 73% of workers want their employers to continue providing flexible remote work options after the world returns to some semblance of normalcy.

    “The data is clear. Extreme flexibility and hybrid work will define the post-pandemic workplace,” the survey notes. “Employees want control of where, when, and how they work, and expect businesses to provide options. The decisions business leaders make in the coming months to enable flexible work will impact everything from culture and innovation to how organizations attract and retain top talent.”


    With many of us now fully functioning (or close to) at working from home I wanted to briefly address a few tips. Designate a workspace that is yours. It doesn’t need to be an entire room. My spot is the dining table. From 8:00 am to 5:00 pm my family respects that area as my office and understands I am working.

    Remember that you are allowed to stop working at the end of the workday. Many of us continue to work past five or at minimum read emails. That doesn’t mean you are required to or that you must respond. Once people understand you have work boundaries and are not always available on call, you will hopefully feel less burden to constantly check your emails, phone messages and texts during non-working hours.

    I have had a long commute for my entire working career. It has always been my me time. When the kids were little, I treasured that hour each morning and evening of no work no kids. I am a huge fan of Libby, the free public library app. When driving I listened to free audible books on the app and was so well read. I would listen t o a new book every week. Now, I use the same app but download free books and read during that same commute time. I am determined to still have my daily me time. Spring is here so daily walks and listening to audio books are returning.

    One area that can be over or underwhelming is keeping in contact with coworkers, partners, and your clients. Many of us used to see each other daily, attend regular meetings, conduct outreach and present at various events. Now, we communicate via virtual meetings, email, text and phone. It is definitely not the same. There is less chit chat and small talk. I miss the comradery of my coworkers. One way to combat this is to get on meetings a few minutes early and have an ordinary conversation prior to the start of the meeting. Another solution is just picking up the phone and telling people you miss them and asking how they are. Seems simple, yet many of us are skipping this essential human connection.

    The NENA marketing committee has tried to encompass different ways to keep in contact with our beneficiaries throughout the safe at home order. We meet the third Wednesday each month at 2:00 pm EST. We have brought in guest speakers on subjects ranging from texting to utilizing webinars to reach clients. We also have had robust meetings with members chiming in as to how they are faring during all of this, including sharing marketing ideas. Some members and their organizations have really thought outside the box and come up with real solutions. Please join us. Feel free to reach out to me anytime at mscoble@mcscareergroup.com.

  • March 19, 2021 11:22 AM | NENA Admin (Administrator)

    By Jessica Conant, NENA Director
    Golden Sierra Job Training Agency

    As we are moving into the second year of the pandemic, we are reminded of the importance of staying healthy so that we are able to provide the excellent service to our customers that we are known for. The more we know and practice healthy habits, the more we can share with our customers to increase their chances for successfully transitioning into the workplace and through these challenging times.

    Referring to the CDC site on Coping with Stress (https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/daily-life-coping/managing-stress-anxiety.html), “Learning to cope with stress in a healthy way will make you, the people you care about, and those around you become more resilient.”

    We know what we should do, but are we ensuring that we are actually doing it? Remember that you have to put your own mask on before helping others! Here are some key reminders (https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/community/mental-health-non-healthcare.html):

    ·         Identify those things which you do not have control over and do the best you can with the resources available to you.

    ·         Increase your sense of control by developing a consistent daily routine when possible — ideally one that is similar to your schedule before the pandemic.

    o    Keep a regular sleep schedule.

    o    Take breaks from work to stretch, exercise, or check in with your supportive colleagues, coworkers, family, and friends.

    o    Spend time outdoors, either being physically active or relaxing.

    o    If you work from home, set a regular time to end your work for the day, if possible.

    o    Practice mindfulness techniques. Ways to be mindful can include:

    §  Breathing exercises, focusing on each inhale and exhale.

    §  Eating healthy meals, savoring each bite.

    §  Meditating on a positive word (relaxation, ease or calm) or an image that makes you happy.

    §  Intentionally connecting to an old friend (electronically, of course).

    §  Taking a bath, noticing the warm temperature and its effects on muscle tension releasing.

    o    Do things you enjoy during non-work hours.

    ·         Remind yourself that everyone is in an unusual situation with limited resources.

    ·         Take breaks from watching, reading, or listening to news stories, including social media. Hearing about the pandemic repeatedly can be upsetting and mentally exhausting

    ·         Connect with others. Talk with people you trust about your concerns, how you are feeling, or how the COVID-19 pandemic is affecting you.

    Challenge time! I challenge you to not only incorporate these strategies into your daily lives, but to encourage those you work with and those you serve to do the same. Create a challenge on social media or in your office to help others add healthy habits into their schedules.

  • February 26, 2021 5:01 PM | NENA Admin (Administrator)

    By Lauren Parker, NENA Director
    Ticket to Work Senior Director, Virginia Career Works Northern Region

    It feels like things have changed at warp speed this past year regarding how we work and interact with one another. A lot of us have transitioned to a service delivery model that is completely virtual. As we continue to adapt, it is more important than ever that our virtual services, resources, and information are accessible.

    Just as our technology is ever-changing so too must our accessibility solutions. We can be proactive by asking questions about the information we share, services we provide, and products we use to deliver services. Can everyone read the content on my website? Is the attached PDF about a hiring event accessible? Did I add alt text to my presentation? What are the accessibility features of this virtual job platform? However, the key to sustaining accessibility is making sure we have a process in place. Digital accessibility is just that. It is the process for making our digital content and services accessible to all. For an overview of digital accessibility check out this short video.

    Why it is important?

    Technology is becoming increasingly embedded in our lives. In 2016, the UN declared access to the internet a human right. Digital accessibility makes good business sense too. It improves the digital experience for everyone, and companies that do not ensure digital accessibility are losing customers.

    Whether you operate a small-business or work for a large organization, you have the power to make a difference. Help spread the word about digital accessibility.

    Ways to get started

    • Learn more about digital accessibility and identify what you can do on your own and what you might need to outsource.
    • Find an accessibility partner. Many businesses offer compliance solutions, including website audits and document remediation. View the Job Accommodation Network (JAN) list of Website Accessibility Vendors.
    • Review your business processes. Are there additional steps you can include to ensure accessibility is not overlooked?
      • Incorporate an annual website audit into your budget and operations plans.
      • Look at your procurement process. Do you ask vendors if their products follow current Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) guidelines.
    • Create an accessibility statement for your business. Try this accessibility statement generator.
    • Develop a Digital Accessibility Policy. This guideline is targeted for schools, but is a resource anyone can use.

    Want to dive deeper? Here are some additional resources—

  • January 20, 2021 6:32 PM | NENA Admin (Administrator)

    By Sarah Lyngdal, NENA Secretary
    Ticket to Work Program Manager, Employment Resources, Inc.

    When Social Security disability beneficiaries start to consider a return to work, their biggest question is: How much can I earn without impacting my benefits? For many it is the deciding factor about how much they will work and earn when they find a job. But there is a lot of misinformation out there and beneficiaries are sometimes clinging to the wrong numbers without realizing it.

    I am a big believer that all ticketholders considering work should begin by getting work incentives benefits counseling from a trained and reputable source. The key to a successful return to work journey is being able to prepare for benefit changes before they happen. A work incentives benefits counselor can verify benefits, explain how earnings will impact state and federal benefits, and outline action items when there are changes to the ticketholder’s situation - including finding a job.

    Benefits counseling services can be provided in a variety of forms. Initially benefits counseling can include information and referral, or more in-depth services like a report about benefits, work incentives, income limits and timelines. The information in the report is specific to the ticketholder. An important part of the report explains when and how to report earnings to Social Security. Ongoing benefits counseling can include assistance with reporting work, filling out necessary paperwork, interpreting correspondence from both Social Security and state agencies that provide benefits, and resolving benefits issues. Employment Networks can also help the ticketholder monitor work incentives and timelines and ensure that paperwork is submitted promptly to have a greater chance of avoiding overpayments.

    The decision to return to work, begin working for the first time, or increase work can be a difficult one for the ticketholders we serve. Understanding how income-sensitive benefits can be affected by work earnings and managing those benefits can add even more stress and fear to the decision. As Ticket to Work providers, we can use benefits counseling services to educate ticketholders about their benefits, discuss options to maintain needed health insurance coverage, and hopefully alleviate some of the concerns around budgeting.

    Unfortunately, not all return-to-work efforts are seamless. If a ticketholder’s job ends or their hours are reduced, this can affect eligibility for benefits. A benefits counselor can help the ticketholder explore their options and assist with the process of getting cash benefits and health coverage reinstated, allowing the ticketholder to focus on the things that will help them get back to work or increase their hours.

    Furthermore, the support provided through benefits counseling can help ticketholders focus more on their job and career goals and abate some of their fears about benefits when working. Benefits counseling helps ticketholders make informed decisions about work and offers peace of mind in knowing the options and safety nets available with Social Security work incentives. In my opinion, it is the most important service we can offer our ticketholders.

    The Ticket to Work program published a great Fact Sheet about Benefits Counseling and the Path to Employment. You can find it here:
    https://choosework.ssa.gov/library/fact-sheet-benefits-counseling-and-the-path-to-employment

    Looking for Benefits Counseling Training?

    Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) CWIC and Community Partner Initial Training and Certification: https://vcu-ntdc.org/training/initial/initial.cfm
    Cost: Free
    Offered virtually

    Cornell Work Incentives Planning and Utilization for Benefit Practitioners:
    https://www.ytionline.org/courses  
    Cost: Fees vary
    Offered virtually

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The National Employment Network Association (NENA) serves Employment Networks (ENs), American Job Centers (AJCs), State Vocational Rehabilitation Agencies (SVRAs) and other Stakeholders involved in the Social Security Administration's Ticket to Work and Self-Sufficiency Program.

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