Connecticut’s legislature has proposed to create a task force to study the effectiveness, impact and cohesiveness of workforce development programs and initiatives in the state.  The commitment to promote better coordination and collaboration and a more effective and efficient system for workforce development should be applauded.  One of the first agenda items for the task force should be to identify and examine existing strategies that demonstrate cross-cutting, collaborative approaches to job training and employment and promise opportunity for residents who face the greatest challenges to obtaining a living wage.

According to the 2016 Metro Hartford Progress Points, approximately 38,000 men and women residents of Greater Hartford are unemployed, not in school and ready and willing to work.  In response, the Hartford Foundation for Public Giving, the community foundation for Hartford and 28 surrounding towns, launched the three-year, $4.3 million Career Pathways Initiative in December 2015 to support nine collaborative projects that are helping residents with limited literacy and employment skills in the Capitol Region, including low-income mothers, immigrants, residents who are homeless, former offenders, at-risk youth, and others who need a broad range of coordinated services to be successful.

The Career Pathways Initiative enhances or expands existing programs and pilots new approaches to work with Greater Hartford residents facing persistent barriers to employment. The Foundation required each collaborative to demonstrate partnership among adult literacy, community colleges, workforce development training programs, support service providers and employers to develop realistic and attainable career pathways.

Education and training are contextualized to meet adult learners where they are, and all of the training-focused projects include employer involvement. In addition to funding, the initiative provides extensive training and technical assistance in evaluation and convenes the collaboratives quarterly to share best practices, strategies for effective partnership development, and progress toward an integrated career pathways system in the Hartford region.

We have begun to glean emerging lessons from the initiative’s first year efforts including adapting training to meet participant literacy levels, building in a robust case management component that addresses issues such as child care, structuring programs to ensure that people who need to work a part-time job while in training can manage both, and engaging employers to support internships and permanent job placements.

A second effort, Hartford Generation Work,  utilizes similar practices and involves  eight partners  focused on providing job opportunities for young adults ages 18 -29 in Hartford by building the capacity of organizations and employers to serve this population more effectively and in greater numbers.  The effort seeks to increase economic opportunity by promoting the uptake of strategies that connect young adults to education and work, leading to increased income and earning potential.

The work integrates demand-driven employment and youth development approaches as core principles for systems serving young adults.   This effort is spearheaded by the Anne E. Casey Foundation, and led locally by the United Way of Central and Northeastern in collaboration with the Hartford Foundation, City of Hartford, Hartford Opportunity Youth Collaborative and area nonprofits.

The Hartford Generation Work partnership is one of five such efforts taking place throughout the country that is seeking to create seamless career pathways that move young adults steadily forward to self-sustaining employment by integrating features of successful positive youth development and sector-based employment initiatives. Working with local youth-serving agencies and other stakeholders, partners are developing strategies to align existing initiatives serving young adults, build capacity, engage employers, and refocus resources to support this integrated approach.

The legislature is currently considering a proposal that would continue last year’s efforts to pilot two-generation models to address challenges faced by low income adults with young children. Two-generational models co-enroll a child and a parent together, meeting the educational needs of children and the training needs of parents through holistic approach in which parents and children engage in their education together, resulting in economic advancement for the family.

The Hartford Foundation is currently providing financial support for the Hartford Two Generation Project to develop two generation hub sites in Hartford and East Hartford. Under the leadership of Move Up!, a partnership of adult learning, multiple regional organizations, including the City of Hartford, Catholic Charities, East Hartford Public Schools, East Hartford Head Start, Birth to Three, Family Resource Centers, CREC, Integrated Health Services and First Choice Health are working in partnership to develop a comprehensive and coordinated system to support parents with young children.

As the state looks to improve its efforts to enhance career pathways for Connecticut residents, these partnerships will play a critical role in identifying effective strategies to ensure that all of our residents have the opportunity to have a career that allows them and their families to live prosperous and fulfilling lives.

Judy McBride is Senior Community Investments Officer and  Judy Rozie-Battle, Senior Vice President, of the Hartford Foundation for Public Giving.

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