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Encore: Ever-Changing Learning and Development for Caregivers Returning to Work

August 17, 2022

Encore is a pilot program APCO launched at the beginning of 2022 when five women who had taken time out of the workforce to be caregivers returned to recharge their careers at APCO.

All five women come from various industries, experiences and lengths of time out of the workforce. With that in mind, the program, led by myself and Agnieszka Yank, was intentionally broadly constructed, leaving ample room for development of the program while it runs its first lap. Construction is ongoing and yet the learning and development that has taken place among this cohort is far and wide.

Most of Encore’s learning and development has come by observing, experiencing, discussing and simply jumping in. It’s an open-ended system which requires adapting, something that is required in caregiving, so it’s nothing new to this group. There isn’t a specific learning and development curriculum for this group, as the five Encore members work in five distinct areas at APCO. What the cohort does share is Encore member Kathryn Haden’s sentiment on re-entering the working world. “We didn’t know what we didn’t know,” says Haden, a global mobility specialist in D.C.

The first course of action for Encore members was reacquainting themselves with the technology and tools they’ve used in the past. “We live in the time of enormous technological progress and a lot can change in five to 10 years,” says Gosia Pekala, an Encore member in D.C. specializing in project management, who spent four years out of the workforce to raise her daughter.

Fortunately for Pekala, she found the tools and technology she uses in her role at APCO familiar. Still, she and other Encore members appreciate the convenience of targeted trainings on the APCO Hub. The group believes that becoming efficient with online resources early on pays off.

Jannette Esguerra, an Encore member and a media relations specialist on the West Coast, takes advantage of the presentations and trainings that the media practice group provides on innovative tools and resources. “These tools that we can access have been very helpful in understanding how we can do our jobs more efficiently,” she says. The presentations are opportunities to fill the gaps in knowledge that result from time away from the working world.

For anyone new to APCO, whether they are coming from another agency, returning to work or are at the start of their careers, there’s a need and a value in understanding APCO. “Who are our clients? What are our services? What intersections do people sit at? Where is there crossover?” Sri Tademeti, an Encore member and resource manager in D.C. says. She notes that these are imperative questions that frequent the minds of new colleagues and should be addressed from the get-go.

One learning and development initiative the cohort motioned for was inviting APCO representatives to their regular meetings to provide more insight into what makes APCO unique, how we service clients and the expertise we provide as a firm. Thus far, Encore has met with colleagues from Insight, New Business, Impact, Finance and many others. The value of these meetings is immeasurable, providing a more granular look into the inner workings of counterparts and connecting the dots of all that is APCO.

Those who really connect the dots for the cohort are their mentors. “Mentors are really good at creating a positive impact on our reentry to work,” says Esguerra. There is an intentionality, a purpose in the careful selection of each mentor-member set. As the mentors are caregivers themselves at APCO, they also serve as a living example of that tie between their lives as mothers and as professionals.

Almost eight months into the program and the Encore team is providing feedback on the learning and development needs for themselves and for future Encore groups. The group has suggested a basic skills refresher as it applies to each person’s role early on during the onboarding period. They believe that, in time, a learning pathway to address this group of people who have extensive experience, but are still catching up, will come to exist at APCO.

“About three months in or so, as you become more embedded in your position, it’s time to reflect upon what you’re up to date on and what you and your manager or mentor agree you should develop,” says Kim Oley, an Encore member and copywriter in Raleigh.

The cohort is a close-knit group, coming together regularly to discuss their experiences, questions and ideas for the future of the program. From the onset there was an unspoken bond, one that laid the groundwork and set the tone for open communication, vulnerability and support. That bond has paved the way for organic learning and development for each member. Sometimes that type of learning is just as valuable, if not more, than any particular training or presentation.

The Encore program’s learning path is ever-evolving and is also unique to each team member. There are challenges and opportunities the cohort uncovered along the way and we’ve adapted and reassessed the program, ensuring learning and development remains top of mind for future Encore members. With the door open for different types of learning and an environment that is supportive, APCO is a place many future caregivers returning to the workforce can grow and thrive.

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