Memoirs of an Action Clinic

Posted by Heather Stefan - On October 31, 2009 (EST)

Guest speakers.  Panelists.  Hotel negotiations.  Contracts.  Bureaucratic red tape.  Theme development.  Agenda development.  Agenda revisions.  Invitations.  Keynote speaker negotiations.  Budgets.  Event logo.  Supply orders.  Federal approvals.  State approvals.  Sponsorships.  Signage.  RSVPs.  Per diem restrictions.  Headcounts.  Menu decisions.  Funding snafus.  Binder contents.  Webinars for panelists and speakers.  Agenda revisions (again).  Travel restrictions.  Team assignments.  Facilitator assignments.  Facilitator training.  Printing snafus.  Planning meetings.   Moderator notes.  On-site event management.  Staff assignments.  Biographies.  PowerPoints.  Background music decisions.  Keynote speaker transportation arrangements.  Cancellations.  Breakout room problems.  Last-minute trips to Walmart for overlooked supplies.  Three months of planning.  Final four weeks of insanity.  12 hour work days.  Sleep deprivation.  Untold trips to Starbucks for caffeine infusions.  Dark under eye circles.  Exhaustion.

Needless to say, I have a newfound respect for conference and event planners.  It’s been two days since it ended, and I’m still exhausted.

The Louisiana Apprenticeship Action Clinic was held in Baton Rouge from October 27 – 29, 2009.  By all appearances, it was a success.  I modeled it (some might say plagiarized) after the USDOL regional action clinics that were held early this year.  My experience at the Dallas clinic had such impact that I didn’t feel that it was necessary to reinvent the wheel.  Obviously, it wasn’t exactly the same, but similar in content, length, purpose, and schedule.  I’m still a little in shock that it’s all over with.  It was like a wedding.  You spend months preparing for it, go through the pre-wedding frenzy, then the actual  wedding is over in the blink of an eye.  This action clinic felt remarkably similar, although the outcome significantly better than that of my wedding, because I didn’t end up paying thousands to a lawyer to get me out of the deal.

The jury is still out, but I feel certain that there will be significant change as a result of this clinic.  There were nine regional teams that in total represented the entire state, and each team was provided the tools and information needed to create an action plan to increase the level of utilization and integration of registered apprenticeship in their region.  There were panel discussions on resource alignment, partnership development, pre-apprenticeships, and strategic planning.  There were both federal and state representatives that participated in order to accentuate the need for registered apprenticeship to have greater visibility and affiliations with our one-stop centers, community and technical colleges and public school systems. 

The first day or so, I was very concerned about my audience.  I had gone to great lengths to make the clinic fun and encouraged them to relax, contribute, and take advantage of the opportunity to have an open forum for discussion.  All I seemed to be getting were blank faces staring back at me.  Questions from the audience?  None, initially.  I had the most knowledgeable experts on registered apprenticeship and WIA in the region, and not one question.  Well, that’s not entirely true.  One of the workforce investment board directors felt sorry for me, and raised his hand to ask a couple of questions he already knew the answer to.  God love him.

Then, there was a turning point.  My keynote speaker addressed the group the morning of the second day of the clinic.  I’ve written about him before in this forum, The ESAC Diaries Part 1.  Mark Breslin, President of Breslin Strategies Inc., conducted presentations at the Eastern Seaboard Apprenticeship Conference last May, where I had the distinct pleasure of meeting and hearing him for the first time.  I was impressed then, and even more so now.  After his inspiring and thought-provoking speech that heralded the virtues of registered apprenticeship in his very distinct and compelling style, Mark transformed that room.  They loved him.  He was unknown to most of the audience since he doesn’t traditionally address workforce development professionals on the state and local level, so he was fresh, funny, cutting, engaging, and most importantly, right.  The audience was a combination of shocked and relieved, because they felt someone was finally putting words (and appropriate ones at that) to what they see and deal with on a daily basis. 

From that point forward, the clinic was lively.  Part of it was due to the fact that the teams had spent some time in breakouts together, therefore were getting more comfortable with each other and the environment.  Despite my attempts for the past two years to get many of them to see the value in registered apprenticeship, it took someone like Mark and federal gurus to get them to finally believe or understand the wares I have been peddling all this time.  The message was received loud and clear.  It was more than I could have hoped for.

There is one thing I did not anticipate.  I was so focused on the action clinic itself that I never contemplated the aftermath.  The regional action plans were fantastic, but those action plans include assignments for me, including the development of a stand-alone website for Louisiana Registered Apprenticeship, the development of a one or two day marketing conference early next year, multiple follow-up meetings across the state, and even a few requests to make the action clinic a yearly event.

I hope USDOL has more funding in their back pocket. . .


*** Although I fear this will end up sounding like a cheesy Emmy award speech, I would like to take this opportunity to thank those that provided so much support in the development of this clinic.  John Ladd, Joseph Juarez, Laura Ginsburg, Kenya Huckaby, Joseph Jenkins, Steve Opitz, David Gaither, Marilyn Brandenburg, Loretta Shelley, Roger Lash, Curt Eysink, Carey Foy, Howard Sanders, Cathy Breaux, Kelly Ebey, Greg Declouet, Lydia Crockett, Rosalyn Cousin, Monica Taylor, Ava Dejoie, Rose Johnson, Keith Brand, Lynn Diaz-Button, Amy Holcomb, Eric Hatfield, D.J. Berger, Mark Breslin and all of the apprenticeship program sponsors that participated and contributed in some way.  I couldn’t have pulled it off without a great team to make it all come together, and for that I am very grateful. ***

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