Springboard Forward: Engagement, Self-Efficacy and Hope

by Maureen Nelson

Deanna works the dining halls at Stanford University. She is bored with her job and is thinking of quitting. Previously, Deanna worked as a hotel reception clerk, as a barista and as a cleaning lady. She is frustrated and feels like she can never get ahead. She thinks maybe there is more for her out there but doesn’t know how to go about making a plan or finding out about other possibilities. She suddenly decides to get a job as a cashier at Target and quit Stanford. At least she won’t have to clean other people’s dirty dishes, she thinks.

Giselle worked as a full-time employee in a dining hall at Stanford University for several years before partnering with a Springboard Forward career coach in 2004. The coaching helped her to identify her goals and priorities. As a result, she applied to the Culinary School of San Francisco. With financial aid from Stanford, Giselle is now attending culinary school full-time while continuing to work part-time at Stanford, making her dream a reality.

What causes some people to cycle endlessly through low-wage jobs and others to begin moving forward in their careers? For Giselle, it was the fact that she was a client of Springboard Forward (SBF), a career mentoring program geared toward low-wage workers in Palo Alto, CA. (Deanna is a fictional case but representative of the pattern in which many such employees find themselves; Giselle is a real client of Springboard, although personal details have been disguised.)

Three Critical Components

“Most programs provide skills training and placement and that’s the end of it,” says Mark Guterman, head of coaching and training services at SBF. “The thing that sets Springboard apart is its support of the three critical components that distinguish a job from a career: employee engagement, a sense of self-efficacy and hope.” The last one, hope, sounds a little odd. How can a workforce development program broker such an intangible?

"Many unemployed people have been told they’re worthless for so long that they begin to believe it. We try to bring them a success so they can start believing in themselves again.” For unemployed clients, SBF’s job search training goes beyond standard resume-and-interview fare to offer tips on succeeding in a new job and an innovative workshop on “speed networking,” based on the idea behind speed dating.

Guterman explains, “Clients get a 90-minute training on how to network with people, including how to conduct an informational interview. Then there’s a break and when they come back, the room is filled with professionals who volunteer to network with them. Each mini-interview is 15 minutes and clients rotate to a new professional. Right away, they have a success and that’s what generates hope."

Employed clients may participate in one or more of the following programs:

Developing Star Performers is a one-on-one job-coaching program that facilitates collaboration between employees and their supervisors to create employee development plans and improve employee work and communication skills.
Employee Development Training offers skill development assistance in such areas as customer service, communications and team building.
Career Development Services help employees to develop long-term plans for meaningful and sustainable careers.

Another aspect of Springboard Forward that seems to break the mold is the training it offers employers. Home Depot is one employer of SBF clients. SBF teaches Home Depot managers how to support employee development (via the Star Performer program), give effective feedback and lead through change.

An employee in the program attends six sessions facilitated by a SBF consultant — the first and last including the employee’s manager. After introducing the key concept that the current job is the springboard to future success, the consultant works with the employee to perfect performance: developing good work habits, polishing communication skills, building strong relationships — in general, committing to excellence. At the same time, the consultant, trained in career development concepts, leads the employee in self-assessment, goal setting and action planning. The deliverable at the sixth session when everyone reconvenes is a Development Plan that sets a future course for the employee, which may include moving up the company ranks, or possibly, leaving for a position elsewhere.

What motivates a organization to develop an employee only to see him or her move on? In the first place, when a worker sees that the current position offers advancement and the company has a career-supportive culture, he has a lot of incentive to stay. In the second place, even if she eventually leaves the company, while she is there, she is an engaged employee, caring about her job and her performance — something that employers of low-wage earners say is extremely difficult to find. And “engagement” translates to measurable behaviors — lower absenteeism and better customer feedback — both of which translate to a better bottom line.

Success Breeds Success

Springboard Forward’s innovative approach has garnered FastCompany magazine’s 2005 Social Capitalist Award, among several other accolades. The statistics speak for themselves:

  • 86% of Star Performers graduates were still employed after one year at Home Depot, as compared with the company’s annual retention rate of only 38%
  • 100% of responding managers at Home Depot reported increased satisfaction with their employee’s performance
  • Over 90% of Springboard’s clients reported increased levels of self-confidence

Hope, self-confidence, tools for success, engagement in their careers… these are the results for clients of Springboard Forward. Founder and President, Elliott Brown, says, “We offer people a chance to realize their dreams... Nothing is more inspiring than watching people develop hope and a plan.”

Maureen Nelson is a trainer for EUREKA, the California-based career exploration tool and occupational information database. Currently pursuing an M.A. in Career Development at John F. Kennedy University,
she previously served an internship at East Bay Works (One-Stop) and is now an intern at Western Career College. Maureen lives in the San Francisco Bay Area and can be reached at (925) 708-7476 or


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