This week, Secretary Solis and Dr. Jill Biden, wife of the Vice-President and a community college professor, are on a tour of community colleges in Ohio, Kentucky, Virginia, Tennessee, and North Carolina. They’re highlighting President Obama’s proposal to create an $8 billion Community College to Career Fund (CC2C) that will help fulfill the President’s goal of training and placing 2 million Americans in jobs through community college and employer partnerships.
In the Minneapolis area on Tuesday, I had an opportunity witness what can be accomplished when community colleges, workforce development agencies, local employers, and non-profit organizations work together – with a little help from the Labor Department. In 2010, Hennepin Technical College received a $2.6 million grant from DOL that allowed them to partner with local non-profits like HIRED and employers like E.J. Ajax Metal Stamping to design certificate programs in advanced and precision manufacturing, plastics, welding, and for the health care sector.
Building on an existing “M-Powered” program, Hennepin Tech now provides opportunities for people from all walks of life to learn valuable skills and earn stackable credentials. Hennepin Tech’s programs are designed so that students can be work-ready in 9 to 12 months with no previous experience. Students can start entry-level jobs while earning additional certifications at the college that prepare them to move up the career ladder.
But the innovative and effective programming instituted at Hennepin Tech is only part of the story. During my tour, I had the opportunity to meet several people whose lives give testimony to opportunities the President’s community college proposal could offer to workers across the country. Althea used to cut sugar cane, and her family told her to take any job she could get. Instead, she enrolled in the M-Powered program and later got an entry-level job at E.J. Ajax. Now she’s become a supervisor at the company. “The people here are my family,” said Althea. “I could have never imagined working in this field, but now I am – and we need more women!”
Three years ago, Nancy was in the middle of serving a four-year sentence in a Minnesota prison. That’s where she met Joe Mulford, the Dean of Customized Training at Hennepin Tech, who got her involved with M-Powered. Now a full-time employee of a local machining company, she is continuing her education at Hennepin Tech in hopes of learning additional skills and earning credentials to advance her career. “I’ve held this job for almost two years now – the longest I’ve ever had one,” Nancy told us. “The job has given me a living, it’s given me pride, and it’s helped me for the first time be a mother to my two kids.”
Stories like Althea’s and Nancy’s are the reason Secretary Solis and Dr. Biden are out this week highlighting similar work being done by community colleges in states from the Mid-West to the South. Community colleges are vital contributors to a 21st century American economy that is built to last.
The President has proposed a historic investment to help those colleges expand their capacity and partner with local employers to create innovative programs. These programs help job seekers from all walks of life gain the skills, competencies, and credentials needed to pave the way to a middle-class career. The Labor Department is proud to be a partner in this important effort.
I encourage you to return to this blog to learn more about the Secretary’s and Dr. Biden’s bus tour throughout the week! You can also follow the tour on Twitter using the hashtag #CCTour.