Washtenaw Community College has been invited to become a new workforce development provider for the Washtenaw County Michigan Works! agency.
Mary Jo Callan, director of the Washtenaw County Office of Community and Economic Development, initiated planning with WCC to create a program that serves the needs of chronically unemployed residents and local employers, while achieving more wide ranging benefits for underserved residents in the community.
“We need to move beyond specific restrictions or requirements of federal and state funds that are too often deployed in silos, to create innovative, real-world solutions for people in need,” said Callan.
A pilot program will launch in early 2013 to prepare and deliver meals to area seniors as a vehicle for training and skill development for the chronically unemployed. Callan wants to combine existing workforce development funds with senior nutrition program funds to take unskilled individuals from assistance check to paycheck in six to eight weeks.
“The program is called ‘Seeds for Change,’ and was specifically designed for the current and emerging job opportunities within this sector,” said Michelle K. Mueller, associate vice president of Economic and Community Development at WCC.
According to Mueller, WCC identified four distinct job functions within the career pathway that are required to produce a nutritional meal and deliver it to area senior centers. WCC will develop training around basic culinary skills, nutrition, supply chain management, and information regarding career opportunities within the local food system.
Local employers and experts will share their knowledge about local growing, organic cooking, and food-related jobs as part of the training. One goal is to procure as much food as possible from local sources for meal preparation to reinvest back into the community. Participants also will receive instruction to qualify for a chauffeur’s license, which is required to deliver these meals from kitchen to table.
“When they complete the program, these unemployed individuals will have basic certification in four career areas: The National Career Readiness Certificate—Work Keys, which is the Michigan workforce credential identified by MEDC; OnCourse, a nationally recognized curriculum that helps people gain self confidence and overcome personal barriers; ServSafe, the food handler’s certificate; and chauffer certification,” said Mueller. “They can rotate through each career option or choose one to take to the next level with further study towards an associate’s degree.”
According to Brandon Tucker, director of Workforce Development at WCC, the dollars to design and deliver the training are coming from several funding sources. He says that this is unique to a training program of this kind.
“One funding stream could be for cash assistance, another could be specifically for training. Washtenaw County is looking at all of its funding streams and saying, ‘We’re going to take a piece of this to provide support.’ ‘We can take a piece of that and provide training,’ said Tucker. “It’s a very unique and creative way to fund a pilot project like this one.”
At the end of the training, students will transition into internships or employment, where they will put into action what they have just learned. “They are going to walk away with some very specific skills and four industry certifications,” said Tucker. “We’re giving them a fresh start with a lot of career options. It’s a great opportunity for everyone.”