Pearl Interactive Network & Huntington: Hiring veterans & disabled workersHow Pearl Interactive Network combines a solid business model with a bold social mission to give hiring opportunities to veterans, military spouses and people with disabilities
The unemployment rate for workers who have disabilities is more than double that of workers living without disabilities, according to the 2016 Persons with a Disability: Labor Force Characteristics Summary press release by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Merry Korn wants to change this statistic by marrying a solid business model with a bold social mission to give hiring opportunities to skilled and talented veterans, military spouses, and people with disabilities.
With this dual vision, Korn founded Pearl Interactive Network Inc. in 2004 as a for-profit social enterprise that offers program management and call center staffing for federal and state government agencies. Knowing that federal contractors need to hire a certain number of veterans and workers with disabilities, Korn saw a huge opportunity to help them achieve those goals and be compliant with legal requirements.
By tapping into a niche workforce, Pearl connects clients with skilled employees for onsite or virtual call centers who meet these social compliance goals. The organization has developed a proprietary database of more than 450,000 niche workforce resumes, plus access to 28,000 candidate referral sources, to give clients a deep recruiting pool of skilled talent.
Employing, at peak, more than 550 employees in 48 states, Pearl operates as a virtual call center with quality assurance measures that allow employees to work from home. Though some employees work on-site for clients, Korn says Pearl’s home-based workforce is not hindered by geographic barriers, is more agile to respond to staffing surges and is slower to churn.
“In the call center industry, the turnover rate is relatively high,” says Korn, owner, president and CEO. “But in our virtual environment, the average length of stay is 3.1 years.”
These unique advantages solidify Pearl’s position as a competitive partner in the federal marketplace. Now, by scaling its services into other industries, Pearl is tapping into new avenues of growth to expand its social mission.
New level of care
With a background as a clinical social worker, Korn wants Pearl to be known as a people-driven call center that truly cares. “A lot of call centers do large volumes of calls that don’t require a lot of thought,” she says. “But when you talk to our call center agents, it’s a thoughtful interaction that requires engagement. We hire people because they have the ability to connect on a personal, emotional level.”
That approach is critical for Pearl’s newest service: supportive care and remote monitoring. Partnering with telehealth companies that offer remote health monitoring technology, Pearl’s call center staff are taking on the role of supportive care coordinators who help coordinate home-based care for aging adults and people with chronic care conditions.
Take, for example, an elderly woman who lives alone, who falls, or accidentally leaves the stove on, or experiences a spike in blood pressure. Pearl’s supportive care coordinators monitor all those alerts, so they can immediately notify caregivers or health care responders. They also help coordinate home nursing services, transportation to doctors’ appointments and meals delivery.
Pearl’s care coordinators receive specialized training on the remote monitoring equipment, and ideally, have previous experience working in nursing homes or with older adults. Before hire, candidates go through a series of in-depth Skype interviews, tests and background checks.
“We want to make sure (we hire) people who really take the time to get to know your relative, care about hime or her and develop a relationship,” Korn says. “Older adults and people with chronic conditions need that personal emotional connection – and that is the common denominator of our business.”
“We hire people because they have the ability to connect on a personal, emotional level.” —Merry Korn, owner, president and CEO, Pearl Interactive Network Inc.
Growth potential of telehealth
Korn sees a rapid growth trajectory for telehealth services, as technology advances and demand increases. “We’re hitting on something really timely because the federal government is projecting cuts in care to aging adults,” Korn says. “We’re going to see fewer aging adults in nursing homes, and more of a push to keep them at home.”
By serving this home-based aging population with supportive care and remote health monitoring, Pearl is positioned for growth. Korn believes that the pivot to supportive care and remote monitoring will result in top-line growth.
In addition, the service is introducing Pearl to other market sectors and growth opportunities. Korn says the company has been approached about using the remote monitoring service for ground and air transportation, to assess an operator’s vital signs before departure, effectively clearing them for takeoff. “Our timing for being involved in telehealth is incredibly exciting,” she says.
Fuel for growth
When Merry Korn left the corporate world to start Pearl Interactive Network in 2004, becoming a business owner was “very scary, but exciting and thrilling.” She knew her bold vision and relentless passion would only take the business so far. To achieve key growth milestones, she’d need guidance from expert advisors.
“I can’t say enough about getting good financial advisors early on,” she says, “because some of the greatest entrepreneurs have no clue how to run their numbers. Very early on, even if you can barely afford it, get really good financial advice.”
As Pearl’s unique social mission gained traction, the organization quickly outgrew its first bank. That’s when Korn turned to Huntington. “We wanted to have a bank robust enough to give us the answers that we needed for our growth, and one that could give us the best funding relationship, in terms of the breadth of access to different lines of credit and other sources of funding,” Korn says. “We also liked that they were subject matter experts who really understood small business – that was critical.”
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