Monday, November 3, 2008

WorkReady graduation-River Valley

Last Thursday, a group of six graduates received their WorkReady credentials at an awards ceremony at The Bear-ly Inn and Restaurant, in Dixfield. The credential signified that they had completed the seven standards of the WorkReady curriculum. This was the second program that's run in the River Valley area of western Maine, and was the 15th WorkReady program that's been coordinated by the Central/Western Maine Workforce Investment Board.

At the graduation, I met a local reporter from the Rumford Falls Times, a community weekly. The reporter, Amy Chapman, had written an article back in October detailing the program while it was in session. I thought Chapman's article was well-written and did an excellent job of capturing the particulars of the Rumford-Mexico-Dixfield program.

One small caveat to Chapman's article. While WorkReady was developed under the auspices of the Department of Education/Adult Education, in Maine, the Department of Labor was not involved in WorkReady's development. Their role has been primarily as a partner, through the CareerCenter system, aiding in recruitment, and participating in the assessment of candidates.

WorkReady class underway at Region 9

Rumford Falls Times, Oct. 22, 2008
By Amy Chapman

MEXICO – A dozen area adult learners are gaining practical job search, resume, and interview skills, thanks to the WorkReady program at Region 9. Created jointly by the Dept. of Education and the Dept. of Labor and offered to participants free of charge, WorkReady offers training in the “soft skills” needed to be successful at work.

Some of those who are enrolled in the class have been laid off from long-term employment and need to put together a resume before re-entering the job market. Some are receiving public assistance and are eager to find work to support themselves and their families. And others, tired of a series of dead-end jobs, are looking for more challenging and fulfilling careers.

Several students said they came to the class through the ASPIRE program. ASPIRE, which stands for Additional Support for People in Retraining and Employment, is Maine’s welfare-to-work program. It provides support for living expenses, clothing, and school supplies while recipients are attending classes to increase their employability.

What all the participants have in common is a desire to make themselves more attractive to potential employers by learning how to handle the job search and interview process, and more likely to succeed in future employment by improving their skills in everything from computer basics to social interaction.

The class is being offered at Region 9 through a grant from Coastal Enterprises, which improved on the basic 60-hour WorkReady course by funding an additional 20 hours of training. The extra class time allows participants to develop their computer skills, giving them time to work in the computer lab each day, said instructor Jolan Ippolito.

The students come in with a variety of computer skills, she said. Some are quite proficient, while others have never before used a computer and must begin with learning how to turn it on.

“I was completely computer illiterate,” admitted Linda Waters. “I still don’t know very much about them.” Ippolito assured her that by the end of the course all students will possess basic skills with email, internet searches, and Microsoft Word. These basics will give them the tools they need to research careers, find and apply for jobs on-line, and create cover letters and resumes.

Area employers come to Region 9 to work with the WorkReady class, offering mock interviews to help them get ready for the real thing once they graduate from the program. They offer feedback, letting the students know what they are doing well and what they need to work on to become competitive in the job market.

The program’s community business partners include Oxford Federal Credit Union, Boralex, Northeast Bank, Hannaford, Franklin Savings Bank, Mark Henry Enterprises, Hancock Lumber, Western Maine Insurance, and Sunday River Ski Area.

“The employers who are brought in to the class will help me know how to handle myself in interviews,” said Terra Tidswell.

“I’ve spent many years in business,” said Ippolito, “but in this class I’m able to tell people the things I couldn’t tell them as an employer—things like what skills they lacked that prevented them from getting the job they interviewed for.”

Many students find that the WorkReady class opens up new possibilities. “We’re distinguishing between jobs and careers,” said Veronica Ames. “A lot of us just survived on jobs while we were raising our families, but now we’re looking for careers for the rest of our working lives. I’ve especially enjoyed the self-discovery phase—finding out what I want to be, know, and learn. It’s about building up self-esteem and learning how to sell ourselves and our abilities.”

Tidswell, a mother of three, said it was important to her to set a good example for her children by doing something that would expand her opportunities. “I want to teach my kids that you have to get out there and do something for yourself,” she said.

Many students said the supportive atmosphere and positive feedback from classmates increased their self-esteem and helped them raise their aspirations. “I needed to work on my resume, but I really needed a support system,” said Sholarn Jones. “It’s helpful to get feedback from others about your good qualities.”

Ippolito said one of the most important aspects of the class is teaching students how to set goals. Ames agreed, adding, “A lot of people don’t know how to set goals. We might say, ‘My goal is to earn $100 to pay my light bill,’ but that’s a really short-term goal. We need to plan for medium- and long-term goals, like finding a career, and learn how to break them down into small, manageable pieces.”

“This class is a comprehensive tool,” said student Germaine Carrier. “It gives you a lot of skills you really need to have before you present yourself for a job interview.”

WorkReady is always looking for community business partners. Employers and businesses who would like to find out more information or participate in the program should contact Jim Baumer, Central/Western Maine Workforce Investment Board at 207-753-9026.

[WorkReady grads and program partners]


Jason said...

Jim, CONGRATULATIONS! I understand how much care and thought and time and effort you've devoted to developing this program, and I'm very happy for you- you must be very proud.

I have not doubt that this is a great step in developing a better, more qualified workforce in Maine, that has increased earning potential. What may not be as visible to everyone is that this type of program raises the water level of our employment base, making our state more business friendly, and increasing our ability to attract higher paying employers.

This is one small step, but just like the beginning of a landslide, has the potential to build rapidly, and change the landscape.

Keep up the great work!

Jim, please get in touch when you can. I've been invited to join a new workforce development initiative in Western MA, and it looks like your program may be a good model.

Jason Blais

Jason said...

Congratulations Jim!!! I know you devoted a great deal of time and thought and effort and care to this program, and this is a great step! I have no doubt that the graduates will benefit from this for the rest of their lives by increasing their employability and their earning potential, as well as the businesses that are lucky enough to employ them. This provides a great asset to the community, and I hope its just the beginning.

What may be less visible to some people is that this program leads the way for new employers to come to Maine. A program like this can serve to raise the water level of our workforce, which in turn increases their value, and opens up more opportunity for higher paying employers to come to Maine.

This may seem like a small step, but in fact, it can be just like a landslide. A few small stones, can gain momentum and mass quickly, and effectively change the landscape. (maybe that's a catchy new name for the program- The Landslide Initiative...may have a negative connotation I guess...).

Anyway, Great job Jim and best of luck with future students.

Jason Blais