For Ottawa County employees, a silver lining has peeked through the COVID-19 cloud.
The county’s human resources department determined the pandemic would not waylay its workforce from expanding their skill set, even though in-person classes weren’t possible last year.
Instead, a trove of on-demand e-learning and Zoom classes —183 in all — paved the way for them to stretch their work knowledge.
And the staff proved themselves to be eager to soak up new knowledge. “Employees thrive on being in a learning environment,” says Marcie VerBeek, Ottawa County’s human resources director. “We really do have a culture where our people want to keep on learning.”
Most classes voluntary
The majority of classes were offered on a volunteer basis, while learning essential COVID-19 procedures was mandatory.
The cornucopia of topics taught to its 1,200 employees who work in 36 different departments includes the county’s core values (emotional intelligence, customer service, cultural intelligence training); managing stress and anxiety, with an assist from Pine Rest Christian Mental Health Services; adaptive thinking; and learning Spanish.
Thanks to Zoom, employees were able to break from their pandemic-imposed isolation and connect to humanity once again.
“People found it very valuable for different reasons during this time period,” says Sarah Allen, human resources manager for the county. “During COVID, in addition to that growth and development, there was a sense — especially during the live virtual training via Zoom — to log in and see each other and talk and act. That provided a space for people to connect to each other during something not related to the pandemic. We’re all calling in different places but we could all talk to each other.”
Being able to talk and learn from each other was an essential takeaway for Kara Bostrom Young garnered when she enrolled first in the Crucial Conversations course in the pre-pandemic days and then the Crucial Accountability class via Zoom, taught by Allen.
Kara Bostrom Young
The class is intended for supervisors who need to effectively communicate work-related problems without evoking a knee-jerk reaction.
“It gives you the ability to look outside your first impression, see a situation on the surface level, and then look a little deeper and not just the situation on the surface level,” says Bostrom-Young, Chief Clerk for the 58th District Court.
Learning from one another
Bostrom-Young was pleased that the Crucial Accountability class afforded her and other supervisors the opportunity to interact and thus learn from one another.
“I was really worried that we weren’t going to have these breakout groups and miss the camaraderie you get with another supervisor to figure out how this course applies at your workplace,” Bostrom-Young says. “She (Allen) did a really amazing job, getting us to have one-on-one interaction with a supervisor, just like in person.
“Afterward I told her I was worried about taking this course remotely, but I didn’t feel I lost or any of that. I was able to connect with people. I still had every resource available to me that I would have had in person.”