Program Spotlight: Training Institute

Aug 9, 2022

People Incorporated’s Training Institute has responded to community educational needs since 2017. What first began as an internal People Incorporated program to train our own staff, the Institute has since expanded to offer its courses to community members needing mental health trainings – even for people outside the mental health field. Though its core course offerings have remained relatively consistent since its inception – with topics such as professional boundaries, trauma-informed practices, and restorative practices – they are recently responding to an intensified community desire for mental health awareness training.

“The pandemic exacerbated a trend that was already on its way up,” said the Institute’s Customer Service Manager Brett Paulsen. “There’s much more awareness of how mental health affects us and how we work.”

The Institute is responding to more requests from member agencies, who utilize public classes just like People Incorporated staff to learn about mental health, trauma, de-escalation, and more. People Incorporated trains librarians, food shelf workers, bus drivers, and more. The Institute has found that agencies are, more than ever, beginning to create more mental health-focused internal training plans, turning for the first time to look at the mental health of their own staff.

“Now more than ever, agencies are interested in how trauma has affected their own staff,” said Paulsen. “Along with thinking about the people in the community, they’re also trying to minimize re-traumatization internally. There’s a lot of primary or secondary trauma in staff roles.”

The Institute has responded to increased community need – partly as a result of the pandemic, isolation, and social unrest – with specialized trainings like the resiliency series. This series was created at the start of the pandemic to assist with new struggles faced by the community, especially during the alienating stay-at-home orders.

The Institute also reaches audiences in new sectors, including the justice system. They used part of a recent grant to train correctional officers in two different counties, even dipping their toes into training legal professionals. Police departments are new and returning customers. In sectors like these, mental health concerns rise to the surface within day-to-day operations. Institute staff finds that since people with behavioral health issues can easily be marginalized and criminalized, this increased demand could result in incredibly positive community relationships.

“Our classes have always been on these topics. It’s no brand-new shiny box that our instructors are presenting,” said Paulsen. “But what’s happening is that social work – and its human, skillful, empathetic qualities – is bleeding into a lot of other industries now. Industries are realizing that their staff isn’t good at soft skills and that there are harmful relationships internally, so people are more aware and looking to address this. Social work philosophies are popular, so agencies are turning to a field that’s systemized for decades.”

For all the community work the Training Institute has done so far, it’s difficult for Institute staff to measure success after administering a course. However, Institute Director Russ Turner said that the biggest compliment they can receive is when a client comes back for more. This is the recent case of Metro Transit, which will soon take on a second round of staff training.

The Institute’s original partnership with Metro Transit was in 2020-2021, where they trained 800 drivers and workers on mental health awareness. Their repeat request shows not only that the trainings were well-received, but that mental health awareness is a large part of the agency’s mindset when it maybe wasn’t before. Continuous training series is important with any agency since new hires are constantly added and cycled in. It creates a lapse in knowledge if particular trainings aren’t repeated regularly or added as a part of new hire training. Other repeat customers of the Institute include the University of Minnesota police department, Saint Paul Parks and Recreation, and the City of Saint Paul.

“When social interactions go better, little by little, you’re piecing the community back together,” said Turner. “It’s pretty fractured right now. Human connections aren’t what they used to be. With the pandemic and isolation, online interactions are replacing face-to-face ones. This work builds better workforces and more coherent teams. People understand why others behave the way they do. People can build a stronger sense of patience and willingness to work with others.”

Institute staff often have to make decisions about whether or not to offer funding or scholarships to entities that desperately want to enroll in training but can’t fully afford the cost. Institute staff explained how difficult it is to navigate these decisions, knowing that these trainings can significantly benefit a workplace or agency. It’s difficult to turn anyone away.

Turner, who’s been with the Institute since the beginning, perseveres through these challenges knowing the immense impact of the work. He says there’s always a new audience to reach, with an ever-changing societal demand. Whenever they can, Turner and his team do what they can to reach people who need and want these trainings. The Institute hopes to build someday the capacity to work with more national audiences so they can reach more clients and change the landscape of their impact.

Do you work for an agency that’d be interested in administering mental health trainings to its staff, or do you know of one that would? Visit the Training Institute’s website to learn more about course offerings and how to spread the word, or donate to the Training Institute to help us create more high-quality trainings and offer scholarships to those who need them.