To hire and heal at the same time: Wisconsin employers pilot new trauma-responsive job programs

September 13, 2019

A little more than two years ago, veteran Wisconsin entrepreneur Bill Harrigan ripped up all his old business plans and relaunched Grafton-based Harrigan Solutions around ideas that aren’t taught in business school.

 

The man with a marketing degree immersed himself in brain science. Harrigan was determined to hire folks many might turn away — people with unresolved psychological traumas that stem from exposure to extreme violence, neglect, abuse and abandonment. Most of his 30 current hires are ex-offenders.

 

“This is about neuroscience,” Harrigan said about the job-training curriculum he designed.

 

Harrigan Solutions belongs to a growing handful of pioneers who are experimenting with new ways to integrate trauma-responsive practices directly into the workplace.

 

It's a radical idea to some, not least because trauma-informed practices can trigger long-suppressed and painful past experiences.

 

Harrigan has seen the trauma data, which has been validated around the world. Unless those with invisible wounds begin to heal, people coping with neurological trauma statistically are prone to aggression, mental illness, drug abuse, prison, homelessness and dissociation — not unlike symptoms seen in some military veterans. 

 

Critical to economists, researchers concur, is that chronic unemployment and generational cycles of poverty also trace back with statistical probability to homegrown, nonmilitary trauma.

 

"We found that 100% of the applicants have been exposed to trauma," said Bill Krugler, whose nonprofit, Milwaukee JobsWork, has been helping develop a separate pilot program of trauma-responsive job training.

 

Trauma knows no boundaries

 

The same data consistently show that trauma-responsive workplaces have applications far beyond the nation’s high-trauma urban centers, such as Milwaukee. Data collected in the last decade reveal an epidemic of civilian neurological trauma across the American population — rural, urban and suburban — as the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel has reported in a two-year series of stories called "A Time to Heal." As a share of the population, measures of trauma were as high in places like Janesville, Racine and rural northern Wisconsin as they were in Milwaukee's central city.

 

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