It isn’t often a leader talks about measuring success by higher rates of turnover. Usually, one of the main goals of a successful program is retention, and the absence of that can be an indicator of something not quite working the way it should. But for Amy Yu, Program Director, Workforce and Engagement Services, that’s exactly the barometer she uses.
“They’re not supposed to stay here,” she says. “We’re trying to get them in our program, trained, address their barriers and get them out as soon as possible. They have to get back in the game.”
Amy spent much of her early career in the health care industry. Having received her bachelor’s in health sciences and a Master of Science in Health Care Administration with an emphasis in Change Management from California State University, East Bay (then Hayward), she began working with the Institute on Aging, a nonprofit organization focused on “enhancing the quality of life for aging adults and adults living with disabilities.” After ten years with the organization and two children, she needed something different.
“It was about professional development, and at the same time, needing a work/life balance,” she says. “I had a new addition to the family, and I wanted to look for a new opportunity, so it seemed like the right time to make the change.”
Enter Felton Institute. Today Amy runs the Senior Community Service Employment Program (SCSEP) from one of Felton’s San Francisco offices. Officially she is the program’s director, but in a very practical sense, she operates as a renaissance woman within the department. When not in meetings, she spends her time familiarizing herself with “every inch” of her operation, so at a moment’s notice, she is prepared to step in to fill another role if needed.
Anecdotally, she remembers being interviewed for her current position, “They were trying to tell me about the program,” she says. “It was really funny because they said, ‘Well you don’t have any staff, but you’re going to be running this program.” Because ageism is a real barrier for older adults, SCSEP functions as a springboard to help qualifying older adults launch back into the workforce. Everyone on Amy’s team is a participant, from the assistants helping to run the program, to the external clients they serve. Essentially the program allows them to earn as they learn in preparation for new employment opportunities. “So, I’m training, cross-training and doing all sorts of things, because they can leave me at any time, and that’s the goal.”
When she talks about it in those terms, a high turnover rate is something that makes Amy light up because it means the program is working and is sending ripples across the industry. Everyone that transitions out of the program for another job means a new vacancy is open to be filled by another in need of those services. In some cases, participants go on to accept employment with other agencies that offer employment services to others; further expanding the network a client can potentially have access to when they come in.
There’s a quote making the rounds, made popular by a streaming series about an American Football coach with transferrable skills coaching in a European Futbol league, “A good mentor hopes you will move on,” it goes. “A great mentor knows you will.” (Sudeikid, 2021) This is what Amy is at heart, a mentor. She meets every person that enters the program, gives them a personal exit interview when they transition out, and follows up with them long after they’re gone, so they know they always have support. Her investment reinvigorates the skill sets of our senior workforce, supports individual self-worth, and strengthens the larger work community.
by J. Elliott Mendez
Ref: Sudeikis, J. (Writer), Lawrence, B. (Writer), Hunt, B. (Writer), & Lowney, D. (Director). (2021, October 8). Inverting the Pyramid of Success (Season 2, Episode 12) [TV series episode]. In Executive producer initials. J. Sudeikis (Executive Producer), J. Ingold (Executive Producer), Ted Lasso. Apple TV+.
About Felton Institute: Founded in 1889, Felton Institute responds to human needs by providing cutting edge, evidence-based mental health and social services that transform lives. Felton Institute is a tax-exempt organization registered 501(c)(3) nonprofit under EIN 94-1156530.
Offering more than 50 acclaimed and honored programs that address homelessness, mental health, prenatal, adolescent, adult, and senior needs, Felton Institute provides services in San Francisco, Alameda, San Mateo, Marin, and Monterey counties. Felton’s social services and programs utilize the latest scientific research, combining cultural sensitivity, deep respect for client and staff, and a commitment to social justice.
Felton is the oldest non-sectarian and nonprofit social services provider in the City and County of San Francisco. For over a century, Felton Institute has been at the forefront of social service innovation, pioneering new approaches to meet underserved populations’ emerging needs. At the heart of our work is the belief that individuals and families in crisis must have access to services and resources to help them build on their inherent strengths and develop self-sufficiency. www.felton.org