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Partnering for Success: Q&A with Community Action Duluth

The LISC Institute interviewed Karen St. George of Community Action Duluth about her organization's partnership with Arrowhead Manufacturers Fabricators Association and the creation of the Arrowhead Manufacturers and Fabricators’ Training Program.

Q: Can you give an overview of the Arrowhead Manufacturers and Fabricators’ Training Program, and how the idea for the program came about? 

A: Our Career Success Coaching Model provides “ready to work” knowledge and training, which includes soft skills, and twelve hours of coaching per participant for their first year of employment. Through LISC’s Bridges to Career Opportunities, participants also receive wraparound services to increase their financial stability and grow their assets. The added coaching model works alongside the new employee to strengthen the employee-employer relationship by facilitating communication between the employer and employee, deterring a resignation or a termination.   

Our approach stemmed from our desire to increase participant wages and our need to deepen the pipeline of employers. Working with LISC, we chose to simultaneously approach multiple employers through a sector association. We sought out Arrowhead Manufacturers and Fabricators Association (AMFA) to partner with us to help them secure and retain quality employees to meet the workforce demand. 


Q: Can you elaborate on your decision to create a manufacturing pathway and why you decided to partner with Arrowhead Manufacturers and Fabricators Association?  

A: Our Career Success Coaching Model’s sector approach can be used widely and the success of this association experience is changing the way we approach other pathways.  

We were looking for a way to increase participant compensation and benefits, and to develop more efficient relationships with employers.  Our effort had been one employer at a time. We realized we were using a lot of resources to develop and maintain those relationships with only modest success. Our idea, to broaden the approach to multiple employers through a sector association – Arrowhead Manufacturer and Fabricators Association (AMFA), accomplished both a single point of connection with multiple employers and an opportunity to deepen our pipeline resulting in more employer options for our participants. Additionally, by working with the association, we gained an industry certification, added value, for our participants and a required outcome for our program.  


Q: How much input do the employers have on the program’s design? Did you have to put any mechanisms in place to get their input on the design of the survey?  

A: LISC interviewed 20 manufacturing employers to learn about their workforce needs and the industry certification options for our participants. When interviewing manufacturing employers, in each interview we heard a similar story—manufacturers need employment candidates who have the soft skills to stay on the job and enough exposure to the work, so they know what they’re committing too. AMFA and its members designed the manufacturing hard skills curriculum and helped us identify important soft skills that needed to be included in the training. The Career Success Coaching Model was developed by Community Action Duluth and we utilized our years of working with the LISC’s Financial Opportunity Center model.  

Starting with the first night of the cohort, three employers were in the class with participants. Nine employers participated in the final class, which was a job fair.  

Q: How did you ensure it that the program was accessible to a wide group of participants and how did you market it? 

A: A combination of working with our clients at Community Action Duluth helped promote the program along with newspapers, TV, radio and social media advertisements. The ads helped attract people who may not have otherwise learned about the program and their eligibility. 

In our first cohort, we had twenty-two participants with a ninety-eight percent attendance rate. This includes four women, four people of color, and twelve people over the age of forty enroll. Five people with criminal records found employment. We have found that our Career Success Coaching for the first year of employment is helping ease cultural differences between employee and employer.  


Q: What have been the benefits of partnering with one another?  

A: According to Sandy Kashmark, executive director of AMFA, “We have to expand the workforce pool and that includes having open minds and hearts to an atypical pool of candidates. Many employers are receptive to this program and embracing workforce development by exploring every possible candidate pool that can work.” 

For us, at Community Action Duluth, we saw our program grow in scale by having more participant interest, new certifications for access to livable wage jobs and more employment options. Building on what we learned from the great success working with AMFA, we approached Generations Health Care Initiatives and the Family Service Collaborative to alleviate the shortage of Certified Community Health Workers (CHW) in our community.  Organizations that have had a CHW find it to be a great service, but it is difficult to attract and retain trained staff.  We are currently working with five underserved, low income people to help them earn their CHW Certificate as a cohort. This is creating a network of support for the CHWs and an added revenue source for these community organizations because they will soon be able to bill health insurance for their services now that their employees are certified. 


Q: What has been a challenge? A success?  

A: In our area, transportation to the work site is a big obstacle for these newly employed workers.  

Our success is opening a sector of employers to the possibility of hiring people in poverty. With low unemployment rates, there continues to be many unfilled jobs and by providing the coaching model and wraparound services, we are helping employers fill their vacancies.  The result is a community-driven response that provides candidates within six weeks that have participated in an employee preparedness program to receive contextualized hard skills and soft skills training.  

Working with AMFA to meet the employee shortage experienced by area manufacturers and to move Low and Moderate Income (LMI) participants into livable wage jobs.  Using the same model as AMFA, our relationship with Generations Health Care Initiatives and the Family Service Collaborative has CHW students receiving Career Success Coaching before starting their two-semester training and following the completion while as a CHW in the community. These students are improving their compensation, gaining credentials, and realizing their career and financial goals. 


Q: In addition to funding, what do you think is the most helpful tools that the CDFI industry can do to support this work?   

A: By far, connecting employers with the community to respond to workforce needs and bringing them together to benefit those under-employed or living in poverty. Together, we are building the skills of formerly unemployed or under-employed participants, providing a coaching model that simultaneously addresses the needs of employers and employees thereby creating a stronger local economy. 

We would like to thank Citi Foundation for investing in LISC’s Bridges to Career Opportunities initiative, which enabled the new Career Success Coaching Model in Duluth to be created.