Friday, June 26, 2009

A little workforce history lesson

I spent much of the past two days participating in this year’s Maine Adult Education Conference, titled, “At Work for Me” at Colby College, in Waterville.

One of the elements of this year’s conference was a WorkReady™ strand, or focus. On Thursday, I was one of the presenters of “Connecting WorkReady™ to the Businesses in Your Community,” which highlighted successful public/private partnerships that I’ve been part of in Central/Western Maine, in building partnerships that have developed as a result of this program. Many of these initially developed as a result of WorkReady™ have also facilitated relationships that have supported summer youth programs funding by Recovery & Reinvestment Act money, as well as contributed to training programs for New Mainers, as well as precision manufacturing to name but two.

Wednesday, I sat in on a breakout that was done by Bryant Hoffman, our WIB's (or "LWIB) executive director. This was one of four regional meetings that helped to emphasize the collaboration that exists, as well as the historical context connected with the Workforce Investment Act, and the mandated partnership established between the workforce boards and adult education providers.

More than a mandated partnership however, adult education has been an eager and willing partner in delivering the curriculum portion of WorkReady™. Additionally, other connections have been fostered between our workforce board, various adult education partners, the private sector, and the community college system.

In returning to the history of Maine’s WorkReady™ Credential, it was actually “born back in January 2004 as a result of a U.S. Department of Labor grant through the Employment & Training Administration to the Central/Western Maine Workforce Investment Board.

In 2005, several statewide forums (funded by U.S. DOL) were conducted by Melanie Arthur to explore collaboration for work readiness and skill development in Maine. At one of these, then state director of Adult Education, Becky Dyer, and Hoffman had a conversation during a break that eventually led to the first meeting that forged the partnership with Adult Education that has served WorkReady™ so well since. This was in April, 2005.

In the spring of 2006, the very first pilot of WorkReady™ was initiated in Lewiston. Twelve participants graduated from that first program with their WorkReady Credential. Since then, six more programs have run, with an additional 78 candidates being certified as “work ready,” upon graduation. Additionally, the program has fanned out and has also run successful programs in Farmington (three times), Waterville (two times), Rumford (two times), Skowhegan (three times), Pittsfield (once), and Augusta (once). All told, more than 170 candidates have received WorkReady™ Credentials in Central/Western Maine.

While launched in Central/Western Maine, all three other LWIB regions in Maine have established programs in their workforce areas.

In Area 4 (Coastal Counties, Inc), WorkReady™ has now been offered at the Maine Correctional Center three times. MSAD 54 (Skowhegan, Norridgewock, Canaan, Cornville, and Mercer) recently facilitated their first jail-based WorkReady™ program, with 10 trainees at the Somerset County Jail receiving credentials signifying that they’d completed WorkReady and were ready and eager to make a contribution to the workforce.

Other states like Florida, Louisiana, and New York have built elaborate top down programs, often endorsed by state leaders. Maine being Maine has had to piece together this particular program with a grassroots orientation. Undeterred, Maine’s workforce boards have leveraged a variety of resources and as a result, WorkReady™ continues to gain momentum, as well as harboring cautious optimism about sustaining this necessary program into the future.

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