HCC leading new job-readiness initiative
Although Melanie Rojas already holds a bachelor's degree from Mount Holyoke College, she has had a difficult time finding regular employment since graduating in 2015.
For the most part, she has been focused on taking care of her disabled daughter.
"It's been hard to find a job that fits my time schedule," she said. Now, Rojas is part of a new workforce program she hopes will give her a boost toward a career. It's called the TRAIN Job Readiness Program. Holyoke Community College is leading this new initiative, which seeks to help unemployed and underemployed individuals acquire the job-readiness skills they need to secure – and retain – stable employment.
"The program really works with you to try to find the best fit, and I feel I need some help finding a job that would be a good fit," Rojas said. In November, HCC and its partners were awarded a $247,000 grant from the Mass. Dept. of Higher Education's Training Resources and Internship Networks initiative – TRAIN – to develop a three-stage program that includes training in job readiness, industry-specific training in culinary arts or manufacturing, followed by internships with local employers.
HCC's partners in the TRAIN Pioneer Valley Consortium project include the MassHire Hampden County Workforce Board, the MassHire Franklin Hampshire Workforce Board, the MassHire career centers in Holyoke, Springfield, and Franklin and Hampshire counties, Springfield Technical Community College, and Greenfield Community College.
"The goal is to connect each job seeker with supports, career exploration and skill building to help them land their next job and start their next career," said Kermit Dunkelberg, HCC assistant vice president of Adult Basic Education and Workforce Development.
Up to 120 individuals from Hampden, Hampshire and Franklin counties are expected to participate in some way. The first cohort of students started their training March 11 at the HCC MGM Culinary Arts Institute.
"We hear from employers all the time, and we hear it from every sector, that many applicants lack basic job readiness skills – things like customer service, communication, conflict resolution, time management," said Dunkelberg. "They say, we can train them to do the work, but we need them to have these basic things. What we're trying to do here is develop a regional model."
In addition, the University of Massachusetts Auxiliary Dining Services in Amherst, the Log Cabin Group in Holyoke, MGM Resorts in Springfield, Peerless Precision Inc. in Springfield, Bete Fog Nozzle Inc. in Greenfield, and the Pioneer Valley Hotel Group have agreed to provide internship, apprenticeship, or job shadowing opportunities to program participants.
"The other piece that all our research in the region shows is that people lack the hands-on experience of working in an industry," said Dunkelberg. "We're trying to connect them to those opportunities as well, so they can see what the expectations are on the job and for employers to be able to try somebody out and see what they can do."
HCC worked with the regional career centers to develop a three-week, 60-hour "essential skills/job-readiness" pre-training course that will be offered at least four times at locations in the three Pioneer Valley counties. Job readiness workshops will begin in Greenfield on March 25, again in Holyoke on April 8, and in Springfield on May 6.
"These will really focus on professional behavior, punctuality, attire, teamwork," he said. "Communication is huge – and customer service. Customer service across the Valley is something that employers recognize needs to be improved."
The pre-training segment also includes career exploration. In the past, job readiness training has been incorporated into other workforce training programs HCC has offered, and that will continue, Dunkelberg said.
"Really, you can't do enough of it, so it's not just something that will be done at the front end and never addressed again," he said. "People need to keep practicing these skills over and over because these are the things that not only prevent people from being hired, but prevent people from staying in a job, so it's also about job retention."
After the pre-training, participants have the opportunity to continue into one of the industry-specific training segments: a four-week, 120-hour program in culinary arts and hospitality at the HCC MGM Culinary Arts Institute; or a 44-hour manufacturing training program at STCC.
Also, participants might instead choose to enter another industry-specific training program offered by one of the community colleges.
"Someone could go into healthcare training, it that was the right fit for them, or straight into the college," Dunkelberg said. "We're mainly looking to get people ready for employment but we definitely want to encourage everyone to think about their long-term educational pathway. The great thing is it's customizable, according to an individual's needs and their interests and skills."
Rojas, who holds a bachelor's degree in English and Spanish, said that ultimately she would like to work in translation or teaching. She is most looking forward to the work experiences the TRAIN program offers.
"I feel like if I get my foot in the door I could make a good impression," she said.
PHOTOS by CHRIS YURKO: (Thumbnail) Zenaida Torres-Ortiz of Holyoke slices apples for butternut squash soup, part of a culinary exploration portion of the new TRAIN Job Readiness program now taking place at the HCC MGM Culinary Arts Institute. (Above) Kermit Dunkelberg, assistant vice president of Adult Education and Workforce Development, talks to students on the first day of classe.