Access to Work Supports : Northern Connections, Inc.

Program/Practice Name: Northern Connections, Inc.

Contact Information:

Maureen Kenney
150 2nd Street SW, P.O. Box 390
Perham, MN 56573
Phone: (218) 346-2555 (direct)
Phone: (218) 346-4624 (general)

Type of Program/Practice:

Northern Connections, a nonprofit organization serving rural west-central Minnesota, is a proactive, outbound communication center that blends innovative technology with high-touch, intensive human services provided by skilled professionals. Participants are individuals and families moving from the Minnesota Family Investment Program or Diversionary Work Program to self-sufficiency.

Program/Practice Description: Northern Connections offers a variety of services including:

  • Job retention counseling to build problem-solving skills that promote longevity on the job.
  • Re-employment counseling and services, including job searches, resume building, skill assessment, and job readiness skill building.
  • Career advancement counseling for career paths and educational planning.
  • Asset accumulation counseling to connect customers to checking and savings account resources, financial counseling, and education on home ownership opportunities.
  • Human service referrals to necessary agencies and follow-up on behalf of agencies.
  • Information sharing calls to inform customers about important services such as Earned Income Tax Credit clinics, job fairs, or other events or leads that promote self-sufficiency.

Background/Program History: As part of West Central Initiative's Family Economic Success project, a team including West Central Initiative, regional organizations serving low-wage families, and Rural Minnesota Concentrated Employment Program (a Minnesota WorkForce Center) visited Connectinc in North Carolina and determined that it was possible to replicate the North Carolina program in Minnesota. Representatives from the Department of Human Services and Department of Employment and Economic Development visited Connectinc and determined that the program was worth replicating. A grant was awarded from West Central Initiative in mid-2005 and, by August 2006, Northern Connections was operational.

Innovations and Results: Although still in the early stages of program operations, Northern Connections has made an impact, demonstrating a 95-98 percent participation rate.

Operations: All services are provided by telephone using the software developed by Connectinc. On a monthly basis, data are downloaded from the Minnesota Department of Human Services for the previous month showing participants who have gone off TANF cash assistance. Northern Connections' program goals are:

  1. Job retention for individuals with little work experience:
    • Help build work history
    • Help participants get and maintain jobs
  2. Career advancement for individuals who have career aspirations:
    • Prepare them for different jobs
    • Support individuals who would like to obtain a GED/high school diploma
  3. Asset accumulation in partnership with Family Assets for Independence in Minnesota:
    • Credit restoration
    • Provide financial literacy training
  4. Employment/reemployment for individuals who are not employed or employed part-time and moving to full-time:
    • Help put together jobs
    • Interview preparation
    • Prepare and connect with job fairs
    • Access job leads (through or other sources)

Funding: Northern Connections is a nonprofit organization with funding from various sources (State appropriations and grants from private foundations, including Northwest Area Foundation, Bush Foundation, Otto Bremer Foundation, West Central Initiative, Annie E. Casey Foundation, and Minnesota Department of Human Services Innovation grant).

Staffing: Northern Connections emphasizes staff training and learning about resources and services staff can then pass on to clients. Because of the partnership with Connectinc, Northern Connections benefited by having staff trained at Connectinc. In addition, each Northern Connections staff member was assigned a Connectinc mentor.

Tips to Implementation: By learning first hand from Connectinc, Northern Connections began program operations successfully. In addition, the lessons learned and successes of Connectinc have helped Northern Connections secure funding.

Keys to Success:

  • Reliable software - Used software developed by Connectinc, which has reduced the need for Northern Connections to develop and test new software.
  • Credibility - Part of West Central Initiative, which lends credibility to Northern Connections.
  • Efficient - Counseling staff average 30 contacts a day.
  • Proactive, intensive approach - Outbound calls proactively identify issues and solve problems, averaging 30-35 contacts per customer.
  • Accessible - Operates 9:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. Monday through Friday and 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. on Saturday.
  • Coaches and models - Overcomes participant inertia or fears through use of its three-way calling technology. During the call, the contact is made rather than relying on follow-up action after the contact.
  • Flexible - Approach can be modified for multiple types of services, thereby generating efficiencies in operations.

“There are no tools associated with this program.”