Training for Underserved Communities Create Careers

August 04, 2021
  • Therese Schustrich
    By Therese Schustrich
    Account Executives Workforce Education
    Tooling U-SME

Covid-19 caused slowing in much of the manufacturing industry, but activity is ramping up once again, and the number one priority is hiring a qualified workforce.

We have been inspired by two organizations providing job training and skills development to underserved communities, providing career opportunities for individuals, and solutions to the shortage of skilled workers for employers. 

Step Up for Women

In West Virginia, as in most other places, there is a great need for a skilled workforce due to retirements. Covid-19 has accelerated this shortage, and now the focus in on building a strong pipeline.

“To introduce potential workers to the manufacturing industry, it is important to show career pathways through pre-apprenticeship programs and workforce development,” said Lucinda Curry, Director of Workforce Development, Robert C. Byrd Institute, West Virginia’s Manufacturing Technology Center (RCBI).

Offered through RCBI’s Apprenticeship Works initiative, the Step up for Women Advanced Manufacturing Pre-apprenticeship program is designed to help women in the region earn family-sustaining wages. The program is offered in partnership with another organization, West Virginia Women Work.

Back in 2017, we visited with two women who completed the program and found good paying jobs with local employers. Their training included flexible online workforce education from Tooling U-SME and hands-on lab work in the RCBI machine shop.

Since the program began in 2016, 160 women have participated. Graduates are now coming back to encourage the new cohorts, serving as mentors. The first of its kind, the Step Up has been used as a model for similar programs in other parts of the country.

Becky Calwell, program manager, Apprenticeship Works, RCBI, said their programs serve several other populations as well including disadvantaged youth and veterans.

RCBI is working with school counselors who work at juvenile detention centers in West Virginia to make their Pre-Apprenticeship in Advanced Manufacturing program available to youth there. This provides them the opportunity to explore manufacturing.

“One young man just completed the pre-apprenticeship and is studying for Tooling U-SME’s Certified Manufacturing Associate (CMfgA) credential,” said Calwell.

CMfgA is a certification focused on basic manufacturing concepts to prepare individuals for a new career in manufacturing.

RCBI also just introduced a Manufacturing Technician Apprenticeship to prepare high school students and adults for entry-level positions in manufacturing. Apprentices learn about machining, welding, 3D printing, and other aspects of manufacturing.

“The industry hit a snag with Covid-19 and had to close down in some cases,” said Curry. “Now it’s full force the other way – there are not enough workers to fill positions.”

She added, “Luckily, Tooling U-SME was already our partner and students could still complete related training online in our apprenticeship and pre-apprenticeship programs while waiting to return to school and work for the hands-on pieces.”

RCBI apprenticeship programs are now serving 51 employer sites in 20 states, covering 20 different occupations. Collectively, more than 1,000 individuals have completed or are currently participating in their apprenticeship or pre-apprenticeship programs. Of RCBI apprentices:

  • 12 percent have been women
  • 20 percent have been individuals of color
  • 11 percent have been veterans
  • 23 percent have been youth, 16-24 years old

According to RCBI, preliminary survey results show more than 90 percent of their apprenticeship completers stayed with the companies where they completed their apprenticeship, confirming that apprenticeship programs boost retention and provide career pathways.

“We started in West Virginia and gained ground by partnering with manufacturing associations, community colleges and other organizations,” said Calwell. “We can’t do it on our own; we work together to grow together.” 

Jane Addams Resource Corporation

Jane Addams Resource Corporation (JARC) is another organization doing important work, teaching low-income adults and workers skills to earn a family-sustaining wage.

JARC was founded in 1985 as an economic development agency concentrated in the Ravenswood Industrial Corridor of Chicago that focused on keeping good manufacturing jobs in the neighborhood.

Today, to provide career pathways and help address the skills gap, JARC provides free training in welding, CNC operation, press brake operation, and mechanical assembly at three training facilities in Chicago—Ravenswood, Austin (west side) and Chatham (south side)—plus one in Baltimore. Based on this successful model, a JARC Rhode Island is in the works.

“JARC supports individuals who lack opportunities for economic advancement to transition into high growth and high wage career pathways in advanced manufacturing,” said Liz Czarnecki, director of training services, JARC. “We do this through a combination of skills training, support services, job placement assistance and ongoing career and financial coaching.”

JARC partners with a range of organizations locally and can refer trainees to complementary social services as needed.

Czarnecki said JARC offers contextualized education geared to manufacturing and customized for individual needs which sets the program apart.

For instance, the JARC Manufacturing Bridge Program curriculum stresses baseline skills in shop math, print reading and precision metrology. The program is designed for job seekers needing to build or refresh their skills before moving into advanced machining and welding training programs.

The JARC training programs are self-paced, providing trainees the opportunity to grow at their own speed as they work toward industry credentials including AWS, NIMS, and Tooling U-SME’s CMfgA certification.

“Our open entry/open exit model allows trainees to start immediately which means they can be employer-ready faster,” she said.

JARC started using Tooling U-SME online training during the pandemic.

“We had never done online training before and Tooling U-SME’s curriculum really enhanced our program over the last year,” said Czarnecki, who expects a hybrid approach moving forward once in-person classes return completely. “And our JARC Baltimore site began using Tooling U-SME for its trainees this summer.”

“Our trainees respond well to it,” said Czarnecki. “If they have downtime waiting for a machine, sometimes they will jump on Tooling U-SME’s online portal and do training modules.”

JARC is seeing great success with 85 to 90 percent rates for program completion, industry certification, job placement and retention.

In FY20, the average starting wage for CNC training graduates was $17.54. A recent Illinois Department of Employment Security study found that JARC graduates’ earnings increase by 27 percent in their first year post-completion, followed by 18 percent and 10 percent earnings increases in years two and three, respectively. This demonstrates that JARC graduates are moving along a career pathway.

We applaud RCBI and JARC for making an important difference in their local communities by promoting vibrant career pathways and helping employers address their hiring challenges. As a non-profit, we are dedicated to helping organizations like RCBI and JARC and here to help your organization if needed. Contact us to learn how.

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