A specialized work-training program in Northeast Ohio that’s part of a national study is just past the half-way point of its five year course. WorkAdvance trains low-skill, low-income participants based on the needs of companies looking or expecting to hire. The idea is to assess whether such programs for skills-challenged workers are truly effective. As Ideastream’s Brian Bull reports, the effort’s not been without its challenges.
After WorkAdvance launched in 2011, organizers surveyed employers in vital and growing industries to find out what skills were needed - for Northeast Ohio, those were manufacturing and health care.
They then tailored their training to meet those needs.
“So we’re not just training to train, we’re training to meet very specific occupational demands in our region," explains Rebecca Kusner. She's Director of WorkAdvance for Cleveland and Youngstown.
She says workers are recruited and assessed, then given the support they need to advance.
“Whether it’s a GED or long-term technical training, like a 17-week technical training," she says. "This isn’t about, you have to get a bachelor’s degree, this is about what short-term technical training can you take that’ll get you a credential, that’s gonna to get you a job.”
The effort’s also being carried out in New York City and Tulsa, Oklahoma.
It’s being evaluated by the New York City for Economic Opportunity, and MDRC, a non-profit organization that reviews social and educational policy initiatives. In its June report, MDRC found only 20 percent of applicants made it through the screening process, and just over 2200 were in the study…about 400 short of goal.
At the same time, the report says it’s too soon to gauge the program’s effectiveness.
For Northeast Ohio’s part, Kusner says it’s going well.
"Right now we’ve got just under 500 participants in Cuyahoga County and the Mahoning Valley. About 250 of those are enrolled in technical skills training.”
But Kusner says like the national overview, only 20 percent of Northeast Ohio applicants made it through screening.
Some failed to show, others fared poorly on literacy or numerical tests, while others failed drug testing or didn’t met the program’s poverty criteria. And while Cuyahoga County met its enrollment target, the Mahoning Valley effort settled for 122 program participants versus its original goal of 200 (coordinators say they wanted 200 in the program, and 200 more in a control group for an optimum testing sample of 400).
The WorkAdvance program’s $5 million budget is supported by federal funding from the Social Innovation Fund, and local investments through The Fund for Our Economic Future.
Organizers plan to compare the WorkAdvance graduates with a control group for at least 18 months, and gauge if employment rates, retention, and wages are better for those with the specialized training.