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Getting Back to Work: Funders Partner to Invest in Training that Makes a Difference

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Four months after being laid off from her job as a mail operator at a local Baltimore business, Caléche Arrington applied to participate in a program she hoped would prepare her for employment in Baltimore's growing biotechnical sector. With a husband also unemployed and four daughters to support, 30-year-old Caléche was ready to take a chance on a new career, hoping the tuition-free training opportunity offered by the BioTechnical Institute of Maryland (BTI) would open new doors to her. As a resident of East Baltimore, she could see signs of opportunity all around her as new buildings were erected in the growing bio-park in her neighborhood adjacent to Johns Hopkins Hospital. But, she would require help to access this opportunity.

Arriving at BTI, Caléche met with intake staff that reviewed her employment history and discussed her preparedness for participating in this industry-led, nonprofit's Laboratory Associates training program. Although she showed program staff that she was a motivated, hard worker who very much wanted to improve her opportunities for employment and her ability to support her family, Caléche's scores on assessment tests reflected a definite need for academic strengthening in math and reading comprehension before she could enter the rigorous program.

As such, BTI enrolled Caléche in its BioSTART program. During 12 weeks of hard work to advance her math skills and reading proficiency and improve her professionalism and knowledge of the bioscience sector, Caléche excelled in her daily work, never missing any class time. She obtained an overall grade of 90 percent, which more than demonstrated her preparation and readiness for the demanding bench skills training of BTI's Laboratory Associates program.

The curriculum and pace of the Lab Associates training require a heightened focus and attention to detail. Caléche was not alone in her need to double her efforts during the program, but her results were extraordinary.

As in BioSTART, Caléche did not miss a day, nor was she late even once, despite juggling the demands of four children and relying on public transportation. By the time she completed 180 hours of hands-on training, she had mastered a new set of skills and concepts, while gaining fresh self-confidence in her abilities to be a lab professional.

The capstone of BTI's industry-focused training is an internship secured and paid for by BTI at an area life sciences organization. Caléche interned as a lab technician at a large area bioscience company, where she applied her new skills and obtained valuable on-the-job experience. Again demonstrating her can-do attitude, Caléche started her day at 3:30 a.m. in order to take care of the early morning needs of her family and get to work, using public transportation, by 6:00 a.m. Through its robust student counseling and support strategy, BTI was able to connect Caléche to Vehicles for Change, a partner nonprofit organization, which provides low-cost cars to working individuals.

Just recently, Caléche advanced her career by accepting a full-time position with a comprehensive benefits package as a lab technician in the Sidney Kimmel Comprehensive Cancer Center at The Johns Hopkins School of Medicine. Her salary alone is 63 percent greater than her highest past wage.

BTI's programs are designed and operated with the ongoing input and collaboration of more than 30 life sciences companies in the Baltimore region. These employers recognize the current and future need for skilled and dedicated staff and are committed to opening pathways to quality jobs for area residents.

The initiative is also supported by members of the Baltimore Workforce Funders Collaborative (BWFC), a partnership comprised of foundations and public sector entities, which recognize the tremendous impact that industry-based workforce partnerships can make in advancing opportunities for low-wage workers. This collaborative supports similar sector-targeted workforce initiatives in the health care, construction and hospitality sectors, providing a mix of occupational skills training, case management and coaching, access to supportive services, job readiness classes, and job development and placement services for low-income job seekers or entry-level workers. BWFC is an affiliate of the National Fund for Workforce Solutions, which brings national and local investors together to collaboratively support these sectoral models of effective job training and placement.

Since coming together in 2006, the Baltimore Workforce Funders Collaborative has aligned and pooled close to $7 million to support industry partnership models in Baltimore City. This work is supported in part through a grant from the federally financed Social Innovation Fund, established to mobilize public and private resources to find and grow community-based nonprofits with evidence of strong results. Combined, the sector-specific initiatives supported by the Baltimore collaborative have enabled more than 500 unemployed or underemployed jobseekers to complete demand-driven, industry-specific occupational skills training programs with job placements ranging between 75-80 percent. These initiatives have also provided employer-sponsored, on-the-job coaching to more than 1,000 entry-level health care workers, and demonstrated evidence of significant job retention and wage progression over time.

In short, these examples show that funders and employers working together to advance common goals and support workforce initiatives -- and that are aligned with real industry needs -- can and do lead to meaningful jobs outcomes. To learn how to support more programs like these, visit JobRaising.

Linda Dworak is Director, Baltimore Workforce Funders Collaborative, and Kathleen Weiss is Executive Director, BioTechnical Institute of Maryland.