This podcast talks about the development of a career pathway initiative and how it is helping our community make gains with families achieving long term financial stability.
Poverty by Household Type (Downloads spreadsheet to your computer)
Building Tomorrow’s Workforce Today: a Career Pathway Initiative
Hello. I’m Judy Stoffel. I am a Community Building Manager at United Way of East Central Iowa. I manage our Financial Stability work. Today I will talk about the development of a career pathway initiative is helping our community make gains with families achieving long term financial stability.
Two overarching goals for today’s podcast:
1) Provide a framework for the development and implementation of a career pathway initiative.
2) Assist you in identifying a starting ground or provide some insight to help you accelerate your planning, development and implementation.
After listening to this podcast you should be able to:
- Know how to engage diverse stakeholder groups in community conversations that further your understanding of underlying issues.
- Know how to apply implementation ready tools to the development and implementation of a career pathway program.
The Cedar Rapids, Iowa, metro area with a population of 260,000 is committed to re-creating a strong community. The flood of 2008 covered 10 square miles of the city, impacting 700 businesses as well as the homes of some of the most vulnerable citizens. Significant progress has been made since. Our community has made bold decisions and continues to be forward thinking in an effort to recreate a socially and economically vibrant community.
The development of Kirkwood Pathways for Academic Career Education and Employment (KPACE for short) is one of many progressive projects that the community has developed and embraced to strengthen the economic condition of both families and business in the community. KPACE is a community initiative that United Way of East Central Iowa launched in partnership with our local community college, community based organizations and business sectors in the fall of 2011. This initiative is executing two strategies outlined in the “Charting a Course for Change” document:
Strategy1: Increasing enrollment in a completion of a degree, certification, and training programs.
Strategy 2: Connect individuals to family sustaining jobs in high-growth sectors.
A number of tools supporting the development and evaluation of KPACE have been uploaded to the United Way of East Central Iowa webpage for your reference. To access those tools go to: www.unitedwayofeastcentraliowa.org/kpacepodcast.
What informed the development of a Community Initiative to help low-income, low skilled individual’s access training?
Data and community engagement; particularly gathering input from the target population informed our work.
1) We leveraged data.
We studied poverty to become clear about the scope of poverty and who is living in poverty in our six county areas.
- In our community, a local research organization completed a study on the amount of money varying family types must earn to meet their basic expenses. This informed us that families with children needed to earn nearly two and a half times the Federal Poverty Level to meet their basic expenses. That information helped frame the scope of families in our service area that are not financially stable.
- How can you use Census data to narrow your understanding of population groups in greatest need? Researching poverty by household types informed us that single parent households, specifically led by women, are disproportionately unable to meet their basic expenses. Understanding this helps us have a very clear picture of the number of households by family type that we need to target. This also informs us of who we need to engage to help in the development of solutions.
2) In addition to data, we leveraged input from our target population.
- Knowing the numbers is not enough. We needed to understand the critical obstacles impeding these households ability to become financially stable. While there are a number of ways to engage a target population, we opted to hold focus groups with low-income households to learn what they experience as critical obstacles and what underlies those obstacles. We learned
- The three Critical Obstacles encountered by our target population include:
- 1) Low Educational Attainment-
- 2) Low-Wage Employment– and
- 3) Insufficient Work Supports–
- Underlying issues
- We documented themes within the responses that the target population contributed in the focus group discussions to help us understand what other factors influence the three critical obstacles. We mapped out the themes in what the target populations shared with us. This visual tool helped our community see more clearly what we needed to address in the development of an initiative. For example, with education, we learned that the target population wanted to pursue education, however were not certain of where or how to begin career planning. We developed consensus that we needed to help individual’s access education and training.
- The three Critical Obstacles encountered by our target population include:
How do you make the leap from understanding the who, how many and the what of the issue, to developing a community solution?
We once again engaged community stakeholders in the details of development.
1) Design Team
United Way of East Central Iowa developed a Design Team to create an initiative to address the elevated needs. A diverse group of professionals from workforce development, educational institutions, to community based organizations and business leaders participated in a six month process to deliver three things.
- Elevate a community level strategy or strategies of promise that could support achievement of the desired community outcomes.
- Design a pilot program and
- Recommend a plan to measure community change.
The Design Team utilized a set of criteria to elevate best practice models that had the greatest promise to be replicated in our community and net the results our community was looking to achieve. Based on the input received from the target population, two models were selected and essentially blended into one to address the academic and social needs outlined through our study.
- Project ARRIBA, El Paso Texas
- Seattle, Washington Career Pathway Program
2) Community Engagement
The design team drafted a replication map and then once again took the opportunity to engage stakeholders in providing feedback on the concept. We completed a pipeline to education and training study that engaged:
- Community College faculty and staff
- Community Based Organizations and
- Adult learners within our target population
These conversations affirmed service components drafted in the model, as well as elevated components that we needed to strengthen or add for the model to be workable for each of the stakeholders. For example, adult learners confirmed that flexible childcare was needed to pursue training. To be responsive to that need, we developed a sliding fee scale for child care to support students when they increase their wages, lose eligibility for state child care assistance, however are not yet self-sufficient. The child care subsidy is intended to support students in maintaining continuity of care for their child or children, until they earn a wage sufficient to cover their family’s basic expenses. This means those students who increase their wage by obtaining credentials through the program and lose eligibility for state child care assistance while in training; the KPACE program will continue that subsidy for the student to support them in retaining in the program and completing the program.
3) In addition to gathering feedback from college faculty, community based organizations and students, the local Community College developed an “Advanced Manufacturing Industry Sector Board. The board developed a shared vision for the skills needed in the industry by wage levels and provided estimated wages by skills by skill level. The board provides input on curriculum development to ensure that graduating students have the skills needed to be successful on the job.
How do you refine the details?
Two critical details- Career Pathway selection and student screening and enrollment
1) Career Pathway Selection
If we want families to succeed, we need to know which industries have a demand for skilled employees and which of these careers lead to a wage sufficient for families to meet their basic expenses. It is these two criteria that shaped our community’s selection of which career pathways to build. We started the fall 2011 pilot phase with:
- Advanced Manufacturing – Welding
- Health Care- Nurse Aid
- Information Technology- Business Computing
Who could you partner with in your community to gather industry skill needs and wage data? Community College and area Chamber of Commerce’s are two partners to consider among others.
We created a visual illustration for potential students to see the estimated beginning wages offered by employers in the region for each level of training acquired. For example, in welding, a student who accomplishes his or her certificate can anticipate earning $16.50 an hour. When they complete their one-year diploma, they can anticipate earning $18.76 an hour and finally, a student who acquires a two-year degree could anticipate $26.40 an hour. Illustrating the career pathways in this simple format is helpful for students on several fronts:
- One, students can see and experience wage increases as they advance in their training. We discovered that this is a great incentive for students to continue their training.
- Secondly, it allows students to see on ramps and off ramps to their training. Our experience is that we are working with a population that needs encouragement. It can be overwhelming for students to think about two or more years of training, however it is reasonable to set shorter term goals with the students. When students achieve their certificate(s), we celebrate with them and help them build up their confidence, that they can achieve the next goal of a one year diploma.
An additional note- We have had students exit training after they earn their certificate to work for a while and get life/family issues situated. We consider having retained a student in the program if they exit and then re-enter training within two semesters.
Screening and Enrollment
To have a successful program we need a sound screening tool. The screening practices of Project ARRIBA are quite rigorous. We believed that there would be value in engaging community based organizations in the development of a screening tool. Our philosophy was two-fold:
1) Many community based organizations, providing case management, are assessing the stability and progress of clients using evidence based tools.
2) We anticipated that community-based organizations would serve as our primary referral sources into the career pathway program, so we wanted to engage them in creating the tool we would be asking them to use.
The tool assesses the potential student’s degree of stability in nearly 10 life domains, such as income, employment, shelter and food. Referring entities add the score from each domain and are provided with a matrix to guide at the conclusion of the assessment that directs them on whether to refer, make contact with a Pathway Navigator, or help the client develop further stability in one or more of the life domains.
The referral screening tool is step one. After that initial pass, potential students go through the following steps before being accepted into the program. The potential student:
1) Attends an orientation to learn more details about the program and to determine if they want to proceed.
2) Completes an application
3) Completes CASA testing. This is an aptitude test. Our career pathway program is targeting low- income and low-skilled adults. We are screening for students who need basic skill remediation to be successful in college level coursework.
4) Complete a career interest inventory to determine if the potential student’s interests align with one of the three career pathways available.
5) Interviews with program staff (called Pathway Navigators)
The Pathway Navigators make student selections based on all of these factors. If a student is not selected, one of two actions generally occurs:
1) The individual is referred to an educational program that may better meet the individuals needs or
2) The individual has barriers or needs that would likely impede on their success in the program. In this case, the Pathway Navigator communicates why the individual was not selected to the referring entity. This creates an environment that encourages an individual to build stability in a particular life domain with the support of community resources and welcomes the individual to contact the program staff when those issues are stabilized.
Lastly- The Launch and Learning Phase
There are three primary aspects to launching and implementing a career pathway program: 1) Pathway Navigators, 2) academic supports and 3) social supports. The thread to managing the unique needs of each student is in a Pathway Navigator. A Pathway Navigator is the program staff that helps students navigate the education institution, the academic supports the student may need to succeed, and the social supports that the student needs to keep life issues at balance while in training. Pathway Navigators serve as a liaison between the student, faculty and community based organizations. They monitor class attendance, review student journals, and meet with students on a regular basis. They are in-tune with the students to such a degree that they can identify issues and prevent interruptions in the student’s attendance and/or performance. When needed and appropriate, the Pathway Navigator intervenes to address issues.
Speaking of prevention, the career pathway model includes programmatic attributes that prevent students from failing and support them in their academic and career success. A couple of attributes that serve as cushions to support low-income, low-skill individuals’ success includes:
1) KPACE Connections/GED Academy
- Connections is a class that is focused on contextualized curriculum in the field of study. For example, in health care the math, reading and writing will all be applied to healthcare.
- GED Academy is a class that students attend in order to increase their remedial levels in reading, writing and math. The goal is either for the students to obtain a GED (if needed) or increase their score for the COMPASS exam (college entrance exam).
2) A second attribute to help student success is College Boot Camp.
- After a student completes their certificate training, they take the COMPASS test and enroll in college. The programs goal is to ensure that students are prepared for the transition into college level coursework. In our community, for two of the three pathways offered, this means beginning classes at the main campus (a different site from where students start training).
- A College Boot Camp is offered to help students make this transition. Students are introduced to learning services staff who help the students prepare for college academics with an emphasis on study skills, time management, college reading, math and writing.
- The Pathway Navigators also orient the students to college programs and services. This includes providing a tour of the campus, showing students where the library, career services, and student services are.
3) A third attribute to help student success is cohort groups.
- In our experience, we can run two cohorts in one year. One session in the fall and another in the spring. Our current capacity is to accept 10 students in each pathway each session totaling 30 students per session. Placing students in cohorts is intentional. We want students to develop connections with their peer students so that when they exit training, they have peers that support their success. This approach is proving to be very effective.
4) A fourth attribute to help student success is the one on one support from Pathway Navigators.
- We are learning that Pathway Navigators are critical to student’s success. They are a valuable resource to students. They demonstrate genuine interest in the success of the student, and help students leverage community resources.
- Family Team Meetings are one service that we developed a contractual agreement for students to access. Family Team Meetings are facilitated planning and community meetings. The meeting facilitator draws in appropriate service providers that may be able to offer services that meet the student’s needs. The meetings are strengths based and expedite services to the student to support academic retention and completion in their field of study. Pathway Navigators identify when students have service needs that would be best served by this type of arranged meeting.
Measurement- metrics of results and outcomes–
We started piloting the Career Pathway Initiative in the fall of 2011. This means that we have some students who are enrolled in college and are working towards their one-year degree in their field of interest. However, we do not yet have students that have completed a two-year degree. We are a group of eager learners who are tracking progress and are making modifications needed to make the programming optimal for our target population. We have created a logic model to track the total cumulative students in the program. We are tracking: credentials earned, academic retention, number of students who have obtained employment, wage progression, benefit attainment (vacation, health care, sick leave, retirement) and employment retention. To date, 76% of the students have earned a credential that increases their earning potential.
What have we learned to date?
- We need a structured program for students to engage in GED attainment. We learned through our first cohort that students would progress through their certificate training and then not be able to enroll in college because they did not complete their GED.
- The Business Computing Program was not hands-on enough and lacked screening to ensure that candidates had basic computer skills. We did not offer this pathway for one session so that we could do the restructuring necessary to meet the needs of the students.
We have used product development, grants and public policy as tools to mobilize resources for this work.
1) Product Development– As soon as our board obtained an update on the progress of the KPACE Initiative; we had companies interested in becoming more involved. We created product investment options that included:
- Sponsoring a pathway navigator. We itemized various investment levels and the number of students that investment would support.
- Sponsoring a student/family. We itemized the estimated cost to support 1 or more student’s complete training with access to the academic and social support services needed to complete training.
Career Pathway Models are nationally recognized and are garnering support through federal departments, including the Department of Labor. United Way has partnered with the college to secure funding through this source in addition to other grants (local foundation, business grants, etc.) The vision for expanding the model and strengthening student retention and credential completion aligns with a Title III grant that community colleges are eligible to apply for through the Department of Education as well. We are beginning plans to pursue this grant.
3) Public Policy–
In addition to grants, United Way, Community Colleges across the state and other stakeholders have worked together in recent years to secure funds through the Iowa legislature to support workforce training.
In the 2012 legislative session, United Way partnered with community colleges across the state and successfully secured:
- $3 million towards workforce training and economic development to support adult basic education and career pathways
- $2 million towards Gap Tuition Assistance Fund: tuition assistance for low-income students pursuing non-credit, short-term certificate programs
- $5 million in a new line item for Skilled Workforce Shortage Tuition Grants to community colleges for students pursuing a career-technical or career option program in an industry identified as having a shortage of skilled workers by a community college after conducting a regional skills gap analysis.
United Way actively advocated for this legislation in partnership with Iowa’s community colleges. This included opinion-editorials in newspapers, presentations to the Senate education committee on these programs, and a statewide grassroots postcard campaign in support of this investment.
In the current legislative session, United Way is partnering with the Iowa Skills2Compete Coalition. The statewide coalition has developed a policy agenda with the technical assistance of the National Skills Coalition. The coalition has put forth policy recommendations to compliment the investments that the state legislature has made in Iowa’s workforce:
We are optimistic that we will garner the support from the legislature and the governor based on joint priorities and goals for the state. Securing the financial commitment from the state will provide the continuity of resources and evaluation of these types of career pathways on a state level.
As you heard we are seeing positive results, are learning some new things and are adjusting our program execution when we see it to be necessary.
I am sure as you are looking into doing similar projects you will learn what works and what doesn’t. I hope that this podcast help you in your endeavor. As a reminder, a number of tools supporting the development and evaluation of KPACE have been uploaded to the United Way of East Central Iowa webpage for your reference. To access those tools go to: www.unitedwayofeastcentraliowa.org/kpacepodcast.
If you have comments, feedback or learn something that might help us please feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Thank you for tuning in.