Promising start for Earn and Learn program

January 26th, 2012
Benita Melton, program officer at the Mott Foundation and representing Open Society Foundations; Tim Coates, Earn and Learn participant.

Detroit – January 26, 2012] As Tim Coates began his speech, his nervousness was palpable. He was anxious to do his best, but struggled to collect himself and continue.

In the audience were 80 people who represent the funding and program partners of Earn and Learn. Earn and Learn provides individuals who have been disconnected from the work world the opportunity to get real employment experience and advance their education and skill sets. The new program particularly tries to reach young minority males who have been alienated from employment for reasons that may include a criminal record.

Witnessing Tim’s struggle to speak, the audience offered words of collective reassurance. Tim began to find his voice.

“I had dropped out of high school my junior year,” said Tim, 23. “Now I can see that was a mistake, but at the time I wasn’t really thinking about my future.

“I made some other mistakes, too,” he continued. “I have a misdemeanor on my record, and I’m still on probation. But I don’t want my mistakes to define me and limit me. I’m determined to put the past behind me and focus on creating a better life for myself.”

After he finished speaking, the audience stood as one and applauded. Asked later what he thought of the experience, Tim said he could feel his confidence grow as the group encouraged him – and that he would like to speak again on behalf of the program.

In many respects, Tim’s experience at the event symbolizes the mission of Earn and Learn. The initiative has brought together funders, state agencies, workforce development programs, local colleges, vocational programs, employers, and others in a concerted effort to assist and encourage individuals to attain their goals of sustainable employment and self-sufficiency.

“I think we all understand that we cannot effectively address the big issues in our community without genuine collaboration,” said John Van Camp, president of Southwest Solutions, who emceed the event on January 26 in southwest Detroit.

The funding partners for Earn and Learn are:

The program partners are:

Earn and Learn is a two-year statewide initiative that began late last year. About $13.2M, which is nearly 60% of the total funding, is committed to southeast Michigan to serve residents in Detroit, Hamtramck, and Highland Park.

Elliot Forsyth, vice president of Michigan’s Workforce Development Agency, cited some of the early and promising outcomes achieved by Earn and Learn in southeast Michigan. Already, 117 individuals have completed work readiness training, representing a graduation rate of more than 90%, and 70 graduates have been placed in subsidized or unsubsidized employment.

“Earn and Learn is truly making a difference for those who are feeling the effects of poverty and unemployment,” Elliot said.

Jose Reyes, deputy director of Detroit Workforce Development Department (DWDD), attributed the early success of Earn and Learn to its innovative and comprehensive approach. “Traditional models have not worked with the population we are trying to reach, but this model gets to the root causes of the issues this population is facing,” Jose said.

Benita Melton, program director at the Mott Foundation, spoke about the urgent need to address the chronic problems facing a now third generation of minority men who are disconnected from the labor market. “This is an extremely difficult challenge,” Benita said. “But we do not shrink from the challenge. None of the partners do.”

David Egner, president of New Economy Initiative (NEI), talked about the exciting energy of the Earn and Learn collaborative. “NEI is happy to be part of a new way of thinking as we focus on the pressing issue of social equity,” Dave said. “The Earn and Learn model must never be static. It must keep innovating to provide better and better services and opportunities.”

Carol Goss, president of The Skillman Foundation, outlined how Earn and Learn aligns with Skillman’s mission. “Earn and Learn allows us to keep our promise to help transform communities,” Carol said.

Hassan Jaber, executive director of ACCESS, and Tim Duperron, chief operating officer at Focus: HOPE, also spoke at the event. Tom Berry, business development manager at Belle Tire Distributors, was scheduled to speak about why Belle Tire is participating in Earn and Learn. However, Tom missed the event because of illness. His testimonial was read at the event.

“I can’t overstate the value of Earn and Learn,” Tom’s statement said. “You get workers who are pre-screened. The background checks and drug testing are done. The workers are well prepared, and motivated to work and succeed. Without a doubt, I would recommend Earn and Learn to other employers. It’s good for your business, and it’s certainly good for the community.”

Belle Tire is one of about a dozen companies capitalizing on the subsidized employment (wage reimbursement) opportunity that Earn and Learn affords. So far, Belle Tire has hired three Earn and Learn employees. The company intends to hire many more, Tom said, because of the excellent work performance the Earn and Learn workers have shown.

For more information about Earn and Learn, visit its website or contact Laurie Diener, senior manager of Earn and Learn, at 313-297-0085 or ldiener@swsol.org.

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