Workforce Development as THE Pathway Out of Poverty

Poverty is generally described as a condition or state with a lack of resources. Sometimes, people in poverty are absent social, political, familial, or other resources. Poverty is always defined as a state where financial resources are scarce or absent.

Traditionally, assistance programs provide Band-Aids to alleviate the pains of poverty, and a lack of financial resources. Popular assistance programs include food, clothing, shelter, or medical assistance. These temporarily ease the pain of poverty, but by no means cure the real problem. (Please don't misunderstand me, I think these programs can be very important to a community, especially when administered in conjunction with economic mobility programs).

The only way for families to leave poverty behind is to increase their financial resources, and that is almost always accomplished by increasing earned (work) income.

Unfortunately for many families in poverty, they have little hope of dramatically improving their earned income. Many are raising children, perhaps in a single-parent family, and stuck in low-wage jobs that are neither full-time, nor include benefits that many of us enjoy. The thought of trying to "go back to school," or be retrained in a new labor skill is almost impossible to imagine, if for nothing else the price tag that comes with that education.

Many industries are starved for good, trained (or trainable) workers to fill vacancies. Skilled trades and unions are seeking apprentices to learn trades like plumbing, electrical, welding, and much more.

So, what we end up with is many unskilled workers that are trapped in dead end situations, and we have employers and trades seeking new workers to make a career in their industry.

This is where CSL's Bridges to Career Opportunities (BCO) Program comes in. Through partnerships, we're creating a system that supports training or retraining for unemployed or under-employed adults. We launched our first BCO cohort in 2016, training adults to become Certified Nursing Assistants (CNAs), with a grant from the City of Independence and 12 Blocks West. After 10 weeks, we graduated 14 of our 15 participants, whose tuition was fully paid, and they started as CNAs, most of them at Truman Medical Centers-Lakewood in their long-term care unit. (Read more about the program, including interviews with participants.)

CNA students work in the computer lab to earn their Digital Literacy certificate, part of the CNA training.

The starting pay, including the value of benefits, was more than $17/hour for the CNAs. We have calculated that our 14 graduates will cumulatively earn $1.2 million more in the next five years than had they stayed in their previous jobs. Thirteen of the 14 are still in the field, and many have already had more advances in their heath care career, equating to more earned income, and pushing poverty further and further away.

What do we look for in a BCO program? We want job opportunities that are part of in-demand sectors, offer an industry-recognized credential, have local employers, and the graduate can achieve stackable certificates, therefore seeing a bright career opportunity.

For our participants, CSL helps by navigating "when life happens." We connect families to resources while the student is in training; resources like food, housing support, childcare options, counseling, career advice, transportation, and more. We have found that these supports are critical to success. If nothing else, we are an advocate in the student's corner, encouraging them to reach their dreams.

In August, we launched our second BCO cohort in welding. Eight participants over three weeks finished OSHA and Blueprint Reading certifications, and six of the eight have achieved enough practice to have a MIG Welding Certification. We're hopeful the other two finish their time to achieve full certification. At the time of this post, the graduates are being connected to employers, and should all have employment soon.

Watch this video, produced by the Local Investment Commission (LINC) that recaps our successful MIG Welding Training Program.

The City of Independence, during its 2017-18 fiscal year, has committed more than $72,000 in federal funds to further these workforce development opportunities. We hope to offer at least two BCO programs with those dollars and graduate 30 newly-trained workers in good industries.

Our challenge ahead is that we must take this program and scale it to much larger levels. We need to create scale that allows us to graduate hundreds of trainees a year. With the right partners and support, we can get there.

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