Even with support from agencies like Goodwill®, pathways out of poverty for the unemployed aren’t always clear. A new partnership between Goodwill Industries of Central Michigan’s Heartland (Battle Creek) and key community organizations is helping individuals living at 200 percent below the poverty level connect with education, work experience and certification in order to gain guaranteed employment.
Funded by a W.K. Kellogg Foundation pilot grant, the Essential skills Demanded by Great Employers (EDGE) program provides free training for all the program’s participants customized to a participating employer’s requirements. Each of the collaborative community organizations provides a component of the core elements of the EDGE program, which includes academic course work required for certification or licensing by the state (depending upon the ultimate employer), soft skills, financial literacy, job coaching, a paid work experience and a full year of follow-up with each graduate of the program after placement.
The initial cohort in the program receive certified nursing assistant training. The educational component of the program includes five weeks of course work designed to help the participants pass Michigan’s certified nurse assistant training examination at Kellogg Community College (KCC).
“Simultaneously, the participants were enrolled in Goodwill’s Financial Opportunity Center which provides financial literacy training, assistance to access public benefits and variety of workforce development training programs,” explained President and CEO Ken Bauer. “Once the participants’ course work is completed at KCC, they enjoy a paid work experience at Goodwill.”
At the end of the program, the participants are hired to work at Lifespan, an at-home health care provider. Michigan Works will provide case management for the program’s participants during the first full year of employment with Lifespan.”
“We can’t emphasize enough that we’re trying to tailor this program to an employer’s needs and for jobs that do exist and that there’s a need for,” KCC President Dennis Bona said. “When we work with employers we’re going to try to apply the skills they want.”
In July, 19 participants completed soft-skills training followed by CNA courses at Kellogg Community College in early August. During this time, the individuals attended weekly financial management classes offered by Goodwill. Participants are now earning an hourly wage at Goodwill’s stores and manufacturing facility.
Once they complete their training on September 16, they will take a CNA exam for state certification; if they pass, they’ll be hired as Lifespan employees. Individuals who do not pass will be given personal attention to ensure they complete the program.
“It’s been so rewarding,” participant Stephanie Zoss said. “It’s brought me back into who I am as a person. It’s letting me use my potential.”