Lessons from Community Engagement Leader Rachel Kamen
By nature, Rachel Kamen’s role at Postmates is to put its people first.
Rachel heads up community engagement on the company’s public policy team with the goal of bettering the Postmates platform and Fleet experience by elevating the voices of the thousands of Postmates contract couriers that deliver local food and merchandise in cities across the U.S.. One of her focuses is providing resources and partnerships, including eLearning through edX, that support the Fleet not just in their work with the company, but also in their day-to-day lives.
In this article, Rachel shares her keys to success in launching and growing programs and resources that are sustainable, valued, and put employees first while also strengthening the company. In particular, she shares her experience of quickly, effectively scaling eLearning as a resource during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Lesson 1: Don’t Assume Anything—Create and Leverage Feedback Loops
Putting people first requires listening. Effective programs rely on an understanding of the needs and lives of the people who will use them. Everything Rachel does is based on feedback loops with the Fleet, from surveys to email follow-ups, that are used to connect the dots to what resources, partnerships, and opportunities would be impactful.
“You can offer lots of resources, but if they're not utilized and they're not actually meeting the needs of the community they're meant to serve, it's questionable what that's actually good for. We are in no way, shape, or form experts on what our Fleet needs and understand there's no one-size-fits all approach. Don’t assume anything and leverage the experience and feedback from your community directly,” Rachel said.
An ongoing tactic Rachel and the company use to understand the needs of their Fleet is an annual state of the workforce survey. It’s through this survey that Rachel and team learned that the majority of their Fleet has some or no college degree and the types of learning opportunities they seek.
“We see that consistently year after year and we also know through various surveys and interviews that many Fleet members are looking for something more permanent and sustainable for their ongoing employment,” Rachel said.
Using data from surveys and interviews, Postmates created its Flexible Toolkit, an always available one-stop shop that aggregates services and resources for couriers, including learning opportunities. The Career Launchpad section highlights the sustainable employment pathways the Fleet asked for, including online learning through edX.
Lesson 2: Prioritize Scalable, Dynamic Solutions
Ahead of the COVID-19 pandemic, Postmates partnered with edX for Business to offer educational opportunities to the Fleet. Having a solution already in place ahead of the challenges their couriers face during this crisis proved to be invaluable and underscored the importance of dynamic solutions that are able to scale.
“A lot of work that we're doing now is very emergent and in emergency response, but the truth is, the impacts of this pandemic are not going anywhere, so we’re thinking of opportunities that are scalable and sustainable. Part of that is really highlighting our partnership with edX,” Rachel said. “In response to the pandemic, already having edX in place remained the perfect opportunity for our Fleet. Now more than ever, with it being 100% virtual, it was really easy to ramp up and roll out our recruitment.”
For Postmates, scalability also means flexibility. Every courier is an independent contractor, making their own decisions and working in flexible, ever-changing schedules. Resources need to meet them where they’re at.
“[With edX] you're choosing your own courses, you're learning at your own pace, you could take your course from your phone, your computer, your car, your home, wherever you find yourself. It's a really incredible fit on all levels. All of our Fleet can equally access quality courses of their choice and learn in a way that's comfortable and appropriate for them.”
That flexibility of the content itself is also important: couriers have access to the full edX catalogue. While the annual survey showed that the Fleet is looking for more sustainable employment, the experience of individuals and the type of content they seek is diverse—and the pandemic shows that those needs can change quickly.
“I spoke to a really wonderful Fleet member in Chicago who owns a family jewelry store in a mall. He also drives for Uber as an additional source of income. He can't do either right now and he's delivering with Postmates and having a really positive experience and is really excited that he can also take a retail management course through edX,” Rachel said.
“People are also finding themselves with more time inevitably than they've had before so it's also a really great opportunity to invest in yourself for those who want to upskill, and a lot of the Fleet have just said, ‘I want to take Intro to Spanish because I'm interested in that.’ So it's been really across the board, all different stories with the common focus of just the uncertainty of the times.”
Lesson 3: Think Through the Process From Start to Finish
A big part of what Rachel does is being mindful of processes, especially during stressful times. What do your workers need to be successful through each step? Some of developing this understanding goes back to Rachel’s key advice to “never assume anything.”
“Something that we really increased during the pandemic is providing support for the learner through the entire process. Not even assuming that just sending an email with an access code is enough but checking in. Keep in touch with learners through the pipeline to make sure that they're feeling empowered and inspired to take advantage of the opportunity and supported along the way. Especially virtually, it can be very easy to just kind of say, ‘Well, my code didn't work. I'm done,’” Rachel said.
“Ask yourself: What would the barriers be? What are the questions that are going to be asked? Is this inclusive? Is everyone in our community going to have access to the internet or the computer to do this? Make sure that you really have a supportive system in place because again, it can be the difference between a really positive experience or losing someone at the first step.”
To make it easy to engage, Rachel sends email reminders underscoring how Fleet members can use online learning, including tips for sharing on LinkedIn and in interviews. Though the Fleet can choose from the entire edX catalogue, to eliminate paralysis of choice, Rachel worked with the edX For Business team to curate a digestible Postmates favorite course list, including about 30 courses representative of a variety of genres, learning styles, career paths, and education levels.
“It's really nice to be able to leverage this opportunity to be able to better build community in a way that is traditionally very difficult when you're connecting with folks across the country and not in person. A lot of people have been really eager to share, the testimonials we've received have been wonderful," Rachel said.
Measuring Success: Building Community, Supporting Workers, and Digging into Data
The testimonials Rachel hears from couriers are validating and inspiring. “The course was very informative and easy to follow. By the course completion you do have some basic knowledge of python and can move forward to a more complex course. I am definitely interested in seeing what else is available to earn,” said one Postmates Fleet Member from Miami, Florida. “Thank you for the opportunity I’ve been wanting to try to go back to school for several years now so I’m excited to get the opportunity. Free education is priceless,” said another Postmates Fleet Member from Albuquerque, New Mexico.
In addition to building community within the Fleet and positive feedback, like any learning and development professional, Rachel cares about metrics.
“We want Fleet members in the learning pipeline. We want to see our community progressing through their course and passing and earning certificates. That’s another pro to our partnership with edX, our dashboard is really helpful. Those milestones and metrics are very important and part of what we're considering a successful edX experience,” Rachel said.
To date, 96% of Fleet members registered for edX are enrolled in courses across computer science and coding, project management, entrepreneurship and business, language, nutrition, arts and culture, and more—and many have already expressed interest in more.
“I am learning a lot with the class, and it's challenging at the same time," said a Postmates Fleet Member from Kanas, Missouri. "I am currently halfway through the class and working on the class project. Some areas are easier than others. I am excited to take another class after this one, since you are offering! I will keep in touch. Thank you!”
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