CHILLICOTHE— Nearly two decades since its inception, the Employer Resource Network serves over 250 employers in 11 states. But like any successful organization, ERN-USA’s beginnings are humble.
“This was the early 2000s when I was in the private sector as a VP of human resources in the manufacturing industry,” said James Vander Hulst, the founder and Chief Disruptive Officer of ERN-USA. “We were trying to tackle the issue of employee turnover, attendance and recruitment, and also analyze our employee benefits, health insurance and 401k.”
More and more, employees were coming to the human resources team with issues that were keeping them from being able to maintain a work schedule. Housing instability, child care, vehicle breakdowns – things that can make regular work attendance difficult, but not necessarily problems that an HR staff can address.
“We were a family-owned company, and as a single employer, we just found ourselves making referrals to 2-1-1 or trying to connect people to non-profit organizations,” said Vander Hulst. “We weren’t really subject matter experts in all those things.”
In this dilemma, Vander Hulst saw a business opportunity.
“We knew there were an abundance of resources out there … but how do we create a better alignment for employers and employees who need access to those resources. We were waiting until someone came in and had a need, rather than being more proactive,” he said. “It’s really trying to bring those two perspectives together, and in the middle, that’s where ERN was generated.”
For five years the organization grew across its home state of Michigan before expanding first into Indiana and then into Ohio and New York around 2015.
Less than a year ago, the Southern Ohio Employer Resource Network was formed when a coalition led by the Ohio Valley Regional Development Commission, Ross County Community Action Commission and Jackson-Vinton Community Action, saw a need for services that could increase employer retention in Southeast Ohio.
“The Appalachian Regional Commission held work groups to see what kind of program we could all work with them on,” said Kim Reynolds, the Development Director for OVRDC. “It all started from that cohort. We got together and brainstormed ideas on what direction we could go based on what the needs were in the OVRDC region. They saw a need, and we obviously did, too.”
The way the Employer Resource Network functions is that a lead organization (Community Action for SOERN) employs a success coach, and that coach’s time is split into eight four-hour shares that can be purchased by employers on a yearly contract. Once those shares are purchased, the success coach works directly with the employees to help them solve any kind of issues that may prevent them from succeeding in the workplace.
“The model is unique in that it involves and benefits employees, employers, and communities including non-profit organizations,” said Vander Hulst. “ERN serves a target population of employees and their families seeking to gain financial stability and assets.”
In December 2022, Adena Health System became the first employer to join the SOERN, purchasing two shares of the success coach’s schedule – on Monday afternoons and Thursday evenings.
Now that program has expanded to include 28 area networks, 19 lead organizations and over 40 coaches. The program also boasts an average employer return on investment of over 700 percent. Vander Hulst was impressed with how grown and succeeded he was.
“The ERN was such a grassroots idea that focused on individual employers. We went from western Michigan, to all of Michigan, to ERN USA,” said Vander Hulst. “Some of the HR folks at our original companies, they left to go work for another company, and because they believed in the program so much, they talked their new employer into joining an ERN if there was one nearby. And if not, helping to start one.”
And his title – Chief Disruptive Officer – is rather representative of the way he’s viewed that growth.
“I had a CEO of a company we worked with in Wisconsin tell me, ‘We are paying for you to come into our state and our community and try to get it all to work together. If it works, we have a better aligned system. If that doesn’t, you’re the guy who came in and tried to disrupt the status quo,’” Vander Hulst said. “It’s kind of stuck.”
An informational luncheon is scheduled for Wednesday, February 22 in Chillicothe, where employers can meet the coaches and hear about how the program works. Employers interested in learning about the SEORN program in either Ross, Jackson or Vinton Counties can call (740) 702-7222 ext. 130 to RSVP.
This article originally appeared on Chillicothe Gazette: Local Employer Resource Network launches successfully