Sunday, February 17, 2008

Lewiston WorkReady™ celebrates sixth graduation

Without much fanfare, or outside recognition, the Central/Western Maine Workforce Investment Board, along with its partners, have quietly developed a model training initiative, called WorkReady™. This 60-hour soft skills training program, has now graduated over 70 candidates, since it began, in May, 2006.

On Friday, 10 graduates received their WorkReady™ credentials in a noontime ceremony, held at Marco’s Restaurant, in Lewiston. During the three weeks of the program, all of these participants took significant steps forward in their lives. Some, for the first time, were able to pinpoint specific personal obstacles that have consistently held them back and prevented them from achieving workplace and even, personal success in their lives.

[Employers gather to review trainee portfolios]

As a state, Maine must step up its efforts to reach out to and train segments of its labor force that for too long, have languished, and have been discounted in value. One such group is comprised of Mainers who lack the requisite skills required in today’s 21st century economy. As a result, far too many of our citizens have not worked consistently, or for wages that they can live on. Worse, the human potential that they represent has been under-utilized.

WorkReady™ originated from an informal conversation that took place between Bryant Hoffman, executive director of the Central/Western MaineWorkforce Investment Board and State Director of Adult Education and Family Literacy, Maine Department of Education, Becky Dyer, during a break at a seminar both were attending, in 2005. At the time, there had been talk among workforce and education professionals, as well as members of the employer community about the need for some type of targeted ready-to-work program. While there were several successful models and curriculums being utilized in other states (like Florida and Louisiana) nationwide, Maine’s lack of available funding for skills-based training made the purchase of these other curriculums impossible.

[One trainee's aspirations]

An incubator grant co-sponsored by the Employment and Training Administration and the National Alliance of Workforce Boards, allowed Hoffman to proceed with discussions towards launching a ready-to-work pilot in Maine.

Dyer began designing a curriculum, often utilizing in-kind contributions from staff, as well as feedback garnered from employers participating in the Progressive Alliance for Careers and Training Project, funded by an earmark grant to Coastal Enterprises, Inc., which validated the notion that employers were looking for “soft” or “applied” skills.

The graduation on Friday is the 6th graduation that has been held in Lewiston-Auburn. In addition, other programs have been run in two other communities in Area III. Farmington has held two graduations of their own and Skowhegan had 10 WorkReady™ graduates complete their initial program, last May. Currently, two more pilots are getting set to launch in March, in both the Rumford area and Augusta. Funding for these pilots has been made possible by a grant from The Betterment Fund, secured through Maine’s Department of Education and Dyer.

[Lewiston Adult Ed Director, Rob Callahan greets graduates, partners and employers]

Since its first pilot offering in Lewiston, in May, 2006, the program has fanned out and currently, programs are being planned, by Maine’s three other workforce boards. The program now has a statewide steering committee, chaired by Dyer, with representation from all four workforce boards in Maine, as well as Adult Ed, the Maine Department of Corrections, the Maine Community College system, Coastal Enterprises, Inc., Maine Department of Labor, as well as the superintendent of schools, from MSAD 75, Mike Wilhelm.

While it is tempting to continue on, in an effort to impress, trumpeting the broad-based support that has been developed, including the support, both in-kind and with financial contributions coming from the business community and the United Way, in Androscoggin County, I think one of the graduates sums up the program best.

Each one of the graduates prepared a work portfolio, which is viewed on graduation day, by members of our employer advisory team, which consists of 25 local employers. Graduates include representative material, which speaks to their capacity and abilities to be the kind of employee that these area businesses will want to hire. An aspect of the portfolio, is reflections from each graduate, on what WorkReady™ means to them. I include part of one of our recent graduate’s reflections about what WorkReady™ has meant for her:

"WorkReady has been a once in a lifetime opportunity for me. For several years, I have been struggling to find direction in my life. Through this wonderful program, I’ve been able to reflect on and figure out why I haven’t been able to achieve success in my life.

WorkReady has helped me to figure out I want to work with others, helping them to find direction and success in their lives.

I will never forget all the wonderful supportive people I’ve met, who have helped make this a reality in my own life. This program has changed me and helped me to find myself again.

Thank you for making this program available and giving me the opportunity to be part of it.”

Obviously, for this individual and many others like her, WorkReady™ is making a difference. While the program is making a difference and also, helping to address the workforce training needs that Maine must continue to focus on, if it hopes to grow its economy, funding continues to be an issue.

In closing, all 10 of these graduates, along with three other candidates, will embark on a four-week Next Steps training, beginning Monday, February 25th, at Central Maine Community College. Next Steps is a skill-specific training, which piggy-backs on the soft skills training of WorkReady™. This four-week training, Essentials of Customer Service, was designed to target specific needs of area employers in Lewiston-Auburn. With several large companies, such as TD Banknorth, LL Bean, CitiStreet, Oxford Networks and others, the need for customer service skills, as well as workplace computer literacy is tantamount to the success of our region’s workforce. It is another example of how the Central/Western Maine Workforce Board and its partners are providing practical solutions in developing a skilled regional workforce.

[WorkReady's happy graduates]

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