“They made sure I was ok. They made sure I was healthy.”  

That’s how Allan describes how staff working with the MN RETAIN program helped him this year, after he hurt his neck and back.  

MN RETAIN helps employees stay at work or return to work more rapidly when an injury or illness impacts their ability to work. The program connects the employee, employer and health care provider through a MN RETAIN Return to Work Case Manager.  

Allan’s job involves repeatedly lifting 50-pound packages throughout a 12-hour shift as part of his work at a cheese processing company. Because Allan needed to undergo a very serious spinal surgery, he knew he wouldn’t be able to resume lifting heavy packages without extensive rehabilitation and recovery and would be out of work for quite some time. That’s where his MN RETAIN Return to Work Case Manager, Jim Hughes, came in. 

Jim helped navigate conversations with Allan’s health care provider and his employer, so Allan could focus on healing. When he was ready to return to work after several months, Jim helped ensure that Allan’s reintroduction to work was gradual and didn’t put his health recovery at risk. 

“Allan and I started to develop a relationship during the initial telephone screening and our face-to-face consent visit,” said Jim. “This relationship was strengthened with the on-going interactions and was key when assisting with issues on his behalf with the physician and the orthopedic medical team, his physical therapist and the employer’s human resources director. Providing this assistance during his recovery decreased one of Allan’s life stressors and allowed him to re-establish a more normal life situation and routine which needed to include work.” 

Allan’s been back on the job, full time, 12 hours a day in his old position since September 2020. He’s happy to be back. His employer couldn’t be happier that he is, too. Thanks to MN RETAIN and Allan’s perseverance, a valuable employee was retained. A win for everyone – Allan, his employer, and the Minnesota economy. 

Allan recommends MN RETAIN to other Minnesotans who need time to recover and return to work after illness or injury. “Their communication with me was very good.” 

If you would like to find out more about MN RETAIN and how it helps employees and employers, visit the MN RETAIN page on or call 507-284-4537. 

Staff Spotlight

RETAIN Employer Outreach Specialist

Minnesota RETAIN uses an innovative approach—transitional work experiences— to help people stay in the workforce when medical restrictions prevent them from returning to their regular jobs after injury or illness. Learn more in this profile of the Minnesota RETAIN team member who makes it happen.

RETAIN’s overarching goal is to help workers get back to work following an injury or illness, but not everyone is able to return to his or her regular job or occupation right away. For those workers, Minnesota RETAIN developed an innovative solution— arranging paid transitional work with another employer. This enables injured and ill workers to get back on a regular schedule, earn a paycheck, retain their skills, and, in some cases, build new ones. Further, the availability of transitional workers allows employers to fill key roles and get necessary work accomplished.

This cutting-edge strategy by Minnesota RETAIN has already helped multiple participants, and the team is confident the approach will continue to benefit workers. Transitional assignments are coordinated by Minnesota RETAIN’s Employer Outreach Specialist, Ethan VanLaarhoven of Workforce Development, Inc. The process begins when a participant is referred to him by one of Minnesota RETAIN’s return-to-Work (RTW) Case Managers. VanLaarhoven then meets with the participant to develop an Individualized Service Strategy plan and facilitate a good match with one of Workforce Development, Inc.’s many non-profit and public-sector employer partners.

“I essentially serve as a Career Planner for these participants while they work with me,” says VanLaarhoven. “I meet with them to learn about their level of restriction, employment goals and interests, barriers to success, and if there are supportive services they might need.” Examples of supportive services might include help with a car payment or rent, or gas vouchers to ensure the participants can get to and from their transitional work experience.

During these transitional work engagements, participants become temporary staff of Workforce Development, Inc. and are paid a standard hourly rate. While the overall placement process is the same for each placement, the locations and types of positions vary based on participant skills and interests, and employer needs. Two examples of employment thus far include a clerical position with a local county government and a position at a local library that involves shelving books and helping with daily programming.

As his job title indicates, VanLaarhoven also specializes in employer outreach and, as such, he spends much of his time communicating with employers to inform them about RETAIN services. He does this in coordination with Minnesota RETAIN’s RTW Case Managers to ensure consistent messaging. Using targeted language focused on the bottom-line benefits of helping workers stay at or return to work after injury or illness, VanLaarhoven and his colleagues engage employers through phone calls, emails, job fairs, in-person discussions, and face-to-face presentations.

“The messaging that seems to resonate most with employers is the data we share with them about lost work time and productivity,” says VanLaarhoven. “Employers in our region see great value in helping their workers return to work as quickly and safely as possible.” To date, VanLaarhoven and his team have reached out to employers from various sectors. In addition to local governments and the local library, more than 10 other employers have said they are willing to host transitional work experiences for RETAIN participants.

The paid work experiences are delivering tangible benefits for both workers and host businesses. Participants work in a setting that meets their accommodation needs, stay active in the workforce, and continue to earn a wage during their absence from their original employer. Because Workforce Development, Inc. is paying the workers’ wages, the work sites receive up to 200 hours of free labor (up to 29 hours per week) and the opportunity to meet some of their labor force needs—all while helping a person get their life back on track.

Minnesota RETAIN is reaping the rewards of this cutting-edge approach, which leverages valuable employer relationships that VanLaarhoven, through Workforce Development Inc., brings to the Employer Outreach Specialist role. When raising awareness about RETAIN and placing individuals in transitional work experiences, VanLaarhoven uses an important strategy: speaking the employer’s language. “We try to determine what is most important and relevant for them,” he explains. “By framing the RETAIN message in terms of how it will help the employer’s bottom line, you can bring more businesses on board and ultimately find solutions that can benefit all RETAIN customers.”