Usually when a prospective hire fails a pre-employment drug test, the job offer is rescinded and the applicant is never seen again. A technology company with a manufacturing plant in Richmond, Ind., decided it no longer could operate successfully that way.
Seeing a steady increase in drug test positives as the opioid crisis hit the region, and facing an already limited pool of qualified workers, St. Louis-based technology solutions company Belden Inc., decided it couldn't afford to let potential talent slip away. But its leaders also realized that they didn't know a lot about how to connect individuals with substance use problems to the right kind of help.
“We knew we couldn't do this ourselves,” Belden corporate communications manager Ellen Drazen tells Addiction Professional.
Partnering with community-based behavioral health agency Centerstone Indiana, Meridian Health Services, Ivy Tech Community College and Manpower, Belden is offering individualized rehabilitation services to potential employees in what is called the Pathways to Employment initiative.
Launched back in February, the effort might appear modest so far, with five individuals participating in the pilot. But the impact of this could prove to be huge, both for participants and for a corporate community that up to now has not taken a leadership role in this component of workforce development.
“Other companies have expressed interest in this,” says Drazen. “Our Chamber of Commerce is interested.” The initiative even was cited recently in a speech by the U.S. Surgeon General, she says.
Origins of initiative
Drazen says that Belden leaders began to see an increase in positive pre-employment drug screens in 2015 and 2016, and decided to take action by 2017. Much of this decision was driven not necessarily by a personal identification with the substance use issue within the corporate hierarchy, but by a personal affinity for an Indiana community where Belden is Wayne County's second largest employer (and of course, by economic considerations). The Indiana plant has been in operation since the 1920s and manufactures broadcast cables and other technology products.
“It really was more the location-specific factors,” says Drazen. “There are multi-generations of workers there.”
Under the initiative, Belden is able to offer all applicants who fail a pre-employment drug test an opportunity to pursue treatment, Drazen says. Those who agree to participate are referred to either Centerstone or Meridian, where a comprehensive assessment evaluates their level of risk for a substance use disorder. Services then can be tailored to the individual's needs.
Drazen says the five current participants all were deemed to be lower-risk individuals, and three already have progressed to employment. Participants are paired with a recovery coach at the outset and an employment coach as they approach program completion. Drazen says employment roles for these individuals at Belden generally start in a job function that is not safety-sensitive, but can progress to that with time. One of the program's participants is now in machine operation.
Drazen says the rest of the company's workforce in Richmond has been extremely supportive of these job candidates who have been given a second chance. “Everyone knows a family member who has been impacted by the opioid abuse crisis,” she says.
Drazen says treatment costs under the initiative are averaging around $5,000 per candidate. When insurance coverage is not available, Belden and its partners are covering the costs of treatment, she says.
“This could be a fairly significant investment down the line,” she adds. But it also could become one with a major payoff, in both economic and human terms.
Addiction professionals annually convene at the National Conference on Addiction Disorders to share what’s working: Clinicians hear from thought leaders on delivering treatment, while executives of behavioral healthcare organizations learn how to run more effective, more efficient, and ethically minded businesses.