JLDC Talks Funding For DIDI Coalition

Jamestown Local Development Corporation officials are being asked to invest $412,900 in three workforce development programs.

The three programs – the Dream It Do It Advanced Manufacturing Program, the SAFER Program through The Resource Center and the Manufacturing Mentoring Initiative through Chautauqua Striders – are working together as a coalition to address workforce development initiatives from several different perspectives. JLDC members took no formal action after the presentation.

Todd Tranum, executive director of Manufacturer’s Association of the Southern Tier, said the three programs are working to build an early talent pipeline starting in middle and high schools for area manufacturers, build an adult talent pipeline with a focus on the underemployed and help companies retain current and incoming employees.

The JLDC funding would be focused on working with middle and high school students and on helping the underemployed.

“We see Chautauqua Striders as an important partner in this,” Tranum said. “As we bring students into this initiative we want to team them up with mentors so these students can have work experience. Work experience for a 13-year-old is going to look different than work experience for a 17- or 18-year-old. We feel these mentors are going to be helpful in providing students with job shadowing opportunities in manufacturing, stay connected with these students over maybe a longer term to provide additional career and job opportunities, maybe part-time work and internships and hopefully full time work with the companies that the mentors represent.”

Dream It Do It has had more than 75,000 interactions with middle and high school students since its inception in 2009. The program has undergone a redesign, Tranum said, that keeps the best parts of the program while trying to incorporate some new ideas, like partnerships with The Resource Center and Chautauqua Striders..

“That’s what we’re here to talk about today is the integration of some best practices; our experiences, frankly some of our failures and some of our success that we’ve built into this,” Tranum said.

ARPA funding would be used to pay for a mentoring coordinator to oversee the program, with Ericka Meucke, Chautauqua Striders mentoring director, saying the program is likely to be different than the model Striders currently uses with mentors meeting students during their lunch periods. That sort of schedule might be difficult for businesses to use, but Thomas said after-school is probably a better option. Mentors would meet with students at least two hours a month.

Tranum said manufacturers are looking at the coalition as a way to identify potential future employees early in the process while continuing Dream It Do It’s work of exposing students to the possible benefits of manufacturing work while they are young. More schools are offering manufacturing-related courses, Tranum said, including a work ethic credential. Tranum said Dream It Do It is working to better track the students with whom it interacts, with a goal to sign up 12% of middle school students and have 20% of those who sign up make it into manufacturing careers.

“So many manufacturers were concerned about what they were perceiving as a lack of work ethic,” Tranum said. “We worked on defining what that is so we can do a better job communicating with schools what our needs are as employers and what we define as work ethic. The goal is for students to achieve a certain … level by the time they reach graduation where they can earn a framed certificate, a Dream It Do It lanyard and a gold medallion. What we’re doing also is working with our employers to highlight opportunities they have. So many of our employers offer tuition reimbursement, but few people know that type of benefit is available to many of our employers. We’re encouraging employers to think creatively about what they can do to incentivize kids to get on this career pathway.”

The second piece of the coalition looking to receive ARPA funding through the JLDC would reinvigorate the SAFER program through The Resource Center. SAFER was originally funded through an Empire State Poverty Reduction Initiative program starting in 2018 until funding ran out in 2020. SAFER worked with businesses who had employees struggling to get to work to help solve problems and keep people employed.

Terri Johnson, The Resource Center director of employment and community services, told JLDC members that the SAFER program was created through ESPRI’s desire to build bridges out of poverty. She found that many of the issues The Resource Center dealt with in helping those with disabilities are similar to those faced by the working poor.

“It’s transportation,” she said. “It’s things in your personal life. It’s a variety of factor that impact their ability to maintain their employment and stabilize their employment. We’ve brought a lot of employment supports into the program and a lot of the work we learned from bridges out of poverty and kind of created what we now know as SAFER. It’s really designed to support local businesses and impact their retention results and offer supporters to the business and the employees of the business. I think that’s a key factor. It’s not just the employees, we can support the supervisors as well and help them understand some of the dynamics the employees are facing. Sometimes there are challenges where it’s one little tweak, one little support they need and it resolves the issues.”

Fourteen area businesses worked with the SAFER program when it was funded by ESPRI. Coaches worked with 151 employees while impacting 312 employees because the program also helps with family issues when they’re working with a single employee. There were a total of 593 interventions, 169 financial barriers resolved with 96% of the individuals staying at least 90 days. Another 293 people reached out but didn’t require intervention. SAFER program coaches interacted with more than 100 community agencies during the two-year grant period.

When state funding for the program ended The Resource Center officials continued using the program internally while offering basic information to businesses that called for help. There are eight success coaches employed with some working in The Resource Center’s manufacturing division and others working throughout the rest of the organization.

“One of the things we learned is our community is very rich in resources but they’re not easy to navigate,” Johnson said. It can be very tricky to figure all that out. And if you work first shift most of the community resources are open Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., and somebody would have to miss work to get connected.”

Companies that want to make use of this newest incarnation of the SAFER program would be asked to pay something to use the program. That wasn’t the case during the ESPRI trial run, but Johnson said it is important for businesses to have some skin in the game.

There were few questions, but one commission member wondered if 90 days is long enough to consider an employee to have been “retained.” Johnson said the 90-day figure was what was tracked through ESPRI because of the tracking software and forms the state was using – but anecdotally the program was successful even when employees left one job for another job.

“One thing we saw was they were getting promoted to higher jobs in the community but not necessarily at the business they were in,” Johnson said. “They were building up their skill sets and moving on. So it wasn’t necessarily having the best retention number to that specific business but the person was making a higher income and succeeding. We saw a lot of that but it wouldn’t have been reflected in the data we report out because our retention was specifically the 14 businesses we were following. We saw that happen, oftentimes, when they were leaving jobs they were going to higher paying jobs with better benefits and at different local employers.”


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