Community colleges land workforce training grant

  • Holyoke Community College FILE PHOTO

  • The lobby of Greenfield Community College. STAFF FILE PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

For the Gazette
Published: 7/21/2022 8:42:09 PM
Modified: 7/21/2022 8:39:18 PM

Two local community colleges are receiving an infusion of state funds to support their workforce development programs and provide greater access across to training opportunities for underemployed and unemployed applicants.

The grants for Holyoke Community College and Greenfield Community College stem from COVID-19 relief funding approved by Gov. Charlie Baker last year and promise to give approximately 1,500 trainees across the state the opportunity to receive workforce training free of cost. The award, totaling $15 million, represents $735,000 given to each of the state’s 15 community college and the $3.45 million remainder set aside for future allocation based on local demand.

Baker emphasized the need for funding that “provide[s] more residents with quality training options and eliminate[s] the gaps between what skills the Massachusetts workforce has and what skills employers need.”

Someone who is underemployed is defined by the state as a worker earning less than 60% of the area median income.

At HCC and GCC, the funding will support training programs in the healthcare, manufacturing, education, and technology literacy industries, fields with high employment needs in the area.

GCC Vice President of Workforce Development Kristen Cole explains that the college’s occupational training programs rely on grant funding to operate, to partner with and compensate local experts, and to optimize each program’s highly condensed curriculum for adult students with families, temporary jobs, and lives outside of school. By her estimate, the college’s workforce development programs have enrolled 400 students since their staggered inaugurations.

“These funds will allow us to provide student support services, helping to cover students’ transportation or technology needs, but we also train subject matter experts to be instructors, and that comes at a cost but their expertise makes the program relevant,” Cole said.

Workforce development programs at both colleges are structured apart from associate degrees and their programs of study. Training programs tend to be shorter than degree programs and incorporate brief hands-on course of study made possible by partnerships with local employers.

During their last week in GCC’s six-week certified nursing assistant program, Cole points out, students visit extended care facilities in the area, including Linda Manor Assisted Living in Leeds and Charlene Manor in Greenfield, to hone their clinical skills on site.

GCC also works with MassHire Franklin Hampshire Career Center to schedule employer interviews during the final week of each workforce development program.

Cole added: “We’re also looking to build capacity and structure new training programs that respond to the demand we’re seeing,” teasing skilled trades programs that are “under construction” at GCC, including a heating, ventilation, and air conditioning, or HVAC, training program and a welding program that the college hopes to launch next year.

One-third of the grant funding allocated to each college will go towards expanding program offerings while the bulk will directly fund individuals enrolling at each college.

Workforce development programs at Holyoke Community College take a similar form, equipping students with skill sets tailored to high-demand industries and carving pathways to employment through collaborations with local employers. HCC also places an added emphasis on wraparound services to help students stay enrolled and continue working towards their certificates.

The trainings are designed to be sustainable, said HCC Assistant Vice President of Adult Education and Workforce Development Kermit Dunkleberry, to first stabilize students and then help them harness aptitudes and skill sets with which they can build their careers.

“What we found, even before the pandemic, was that many adults who are un- or underemployed may cycle through many entry level jobs because they’re either lacking basic skills to succeed or aren’t connected to the job market, and that’s the workforce development part of the programs,” he explained.

The other part is a comprehensive program of wraparound services designed to make continuing education more manageable for adult students. The college’s Thrive Center, for example, carries on a referral relationship with municipal housing authorities in the area to try to ameliorate the ache of housing insecurity felt by many students on campus.

“At one point, we were still losing students, and we didn’t understand why. We realized we were only looking at the academic portion and missing the more obvious thing, things outside of education that were preventing them from completing their course of studies,” Dunkleberry said.

One student, he recalls, was placed in a shelter in Boston while enrolled in HCC’s online medical assistant course. One day a week, she would drive to Holyoke to complete the lab portion of her training, and after receiving her certificate she went on to find stable housing in the area and continue her nursing education at Greenfield Community College.

“She’s the perfect example of someone who was enabled to have more stable housing and then didn’t stop there. That’s the kind of pathway we’re trying to build,” Dunkleberry said.

The funding provided by the state, he continued, “reflects the state’s significant investment in that kind of work, in raising the level of opportunity for people across the commonwealth.”

The grant will be jointly administered by Bunker Hill Community College and the Massachusetts Association of Community Colleges. Funds will also be overseen and administered by the Executive Office of Education, the Executive Office of Labor and Workforce Development, and regional workforce development boards.


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