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VA Trains Employees With Skills Needed To Advance Their Careers

Eve Abrams
Jean Barnes is learning to use computers through the Hudson Thomas Program.

The Hudson Thomas Program is a workforce training program of the Southeast Louisiana Veterans Healthcare System aimed at increasing the fundamental skills needed to advance the careers of incumbent employees. The program focuses on competencies in reading, writing and computer literacy, as well as soft skills and career coaching. The goal of this program is to increase the number of entry-level workers eligible to apply for mid level positions within the growing VA system. 

“So let’s try sending an email,” Gordon Muller tells the participants seated behind computers in the Hudson Thomas Program – all of them employees of the Southeast Louisiana Veterans Health Care System.

For many people in the room this is one of the first emails they’ve ever sent.

“New email you say?” asks one participant.

“The new email icon,” responds Muller.

Fifty-eight year old Jean Barnes is a student in the class. I asked her if she had much computer experience.

“No, we had typewriters and writing,” Barnes replies.

Ms. Barnes says when she started working in hospitals -- about 40 years ago -- that’s what doctors used: a pen and paper. So now she’s catching up to modern technology, because she likes working for the VA.

“I enjoy working with the service people cause I hear different stories, cause I never went to the service,” says Barnes. “I just love ‘em. My job is to clean up the hospital to make my patients comfortable, but after the program I can, you know, do something else.”

“This has been a journey and I’m loving every moment of it,” says Gail Thomas. “The program is named after my late husband Hudson Thomas. He worked here 22 years as a respiratory therapist and he was the president of AFGE -- American Federation of Government Employees.”

Mrs. Thomas says her husband’s union members kept coming to him, saying, “we don’t have any opportunities. We don’t have this opportunity to move, that opportunity.”

So Hudson Thomas did something about it, with a lot of help from the VA. They created the Hudson Thomas Program, a workforce workforce training program done in partnership with New Orleans Works and Delgado Community College.

The program is intended to help VA employees boost the skills they need for job advancement, things like: reading, writing, math and computer literacy. VA employees in the program also get career coaching and help building a resume and preparing for interviews. The goal is to help entry-level workers advance to higher positions. Here, at last, is a way for VA employees to pursue the opportunities they’ve been asking for.

“It’s an investment in them,” says Charon Flowers-Maple, the employee education officer at the VA. “Just as they come to work invest in the VA and taking care of our veterans, we also in turn invest in them, so that they can be better employees and better people across the board.”

Flowers-Maple says, so far, the first cohort who regularly attended the program improved their reading, writing and math skills by at least two grade levels. It’s also improved employee self confidence, morale, motivation -- and care for veterans.

“If they feel connected and they feel like medical center cares about them, they’ll come to work and they’ll be excited to be here to help out veterans,” declares Flowers-Maple, who says the Hudson Thomas Program is a crucial part in the VA’s vision of strengthening its workforce for all employees, at all levels.

Eve Abrams first fell in love with stories listening to her grandmother tell them; it’s been an addiction ever since.

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