On January 17, 2019, Coalition for a Better Acre was awarded $75,000 from the Commonwealth’s Urban Agenda grant program, which will be used to support and expand the STEP (Supported Training Education Program) workforce development program.
CBA was one of nine organizations statewide to receive funding. The award announcement, attended by Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito, was held at Fitchburg State University’s IdeaLab.
“Today’s awards address tough challenges in our urban centers by empowering these important coalitions to identify their resources, work together towards shared goals and create new opportunities for residents,” Housing and Economic Development Secretary Mike Kennealy said in a statement.
STEP is a five-week workforce training program serving low-income individuals, immigrants, and refugees with a high school diploma or equivalent. Participants practice basic skills like verbal and written communication, active listening, and teamwork and complex skills like conflict resolution, emotional intelligence, and critical thinking. STEP also addresses barriers to employment. Graduates are guaranteed job placement at a medical device manufacturing company in Devens, receive financial education and coaching, free shared transportation to and from work for a year, and 18 months of case management and wrap-around services. Launched in January 2017, the program has graduated 49 people, 85 percent of whom continue working full-time.
This model produces well-trained, well-supported employees who are better prepared to accept a job, keep a job and eventually be promoted to a higher-paying position. The goal is to help low income community members break the cycle of poverty and make a better life for themselves and their families, while providing reliable, skilled labor for local companies.
The next step is an expansion of the program, called STEP UP, a social enterprise that would work as both a workforce development training program and a staffing agency.
Participants with high school diplomas or the equivalent who have a language barriers or other obstacles would enroll in a two-week, culturally-appropriate, intensive training and education program in the areas of labor laws and knowing their rights, financial literacy and banking, work ethic, soft skills, and interpersonal skills and be placed in a textile manufacturing job; those who are more highly qualified will enter the 5-week program and be placed at a medical device or other advanced manufacturing company; and those whose English is not good enough for the 2-week program will take prerequisite English classes through our partnership with JVS (Jewish Vocational Services).
The businesses CBA serves will pay training and placement fees, making the enterprise self-sustaining.
We are focusing on the manufacturing field, which remains the 5th largest employer in Massachusetts. The sector employs over 250,000 workers, according to a 2015 report from Jobs for the Future, a Boston-based policy think tank. Yet the sector is also greying; the average highly-skilled manufacturing worker in the state is in their 50s.
“We are very grateful to the Commonwealth for this award, which will support the ongoing good work done by our workforce development staff as they prepare residents for a better future,” said CBA Executive Director Yun-Ju Choi. “Additionally, the companies who employ these workers will be strengthened by having well-trained, well-supported employees on staff.”
“When we empower local leaders and projects that thoughtfully address the unique issues facing our urban centers, we have an outsized impact on the lives of residents,” Polito said. “The Urban Agenda Grant Program relies on the strong partnerships between local government, non-profits and the business community that are critical to fostering economic success and building stronger neighborhoods in every region in Massachusetts.”