Earn and Learn program helps chronically jobless

Earn and Learn Participant Torre Stewart


Earn and Learn is an innovative and comprehensive model of workforce development that will help more than a thousand chronically jobless individuals in the Detroit area gain long-term employment


Earn and Learn is a two-year statewide initiative, of which $13.2M (about 60% of the total funding) is devoted to the Detroit-area program, which is led by Southwest Solutions. The Program involves multiple partners working together to provide participants training, skills, support services, coaching, educational opportunities at varying levels, and employment experience.


Partners include Focus: HOPE, ACCESS, Southeast Michigan Community Alliance and Detroit Workforce Development Department, local colleges, vocational programs, employers, and others.


The program particularly targets minority men who have been disconnected from the work world for reasons including a criminal record and incarceration.


“I decided to enroll in Earn and Learn because I didn’t want to give away the rest of my life to being poor and jobless,” says Torre Stewart, 32.


Torre wants to get his life on track, but needs help to overcome past mistakes. When he was 21, Torre went to prison for two years for a marijuana and weapons conviction. After his release, he could not find steady work, and subsisted by doing occasional cleanup and home repair jobs. He taught himself to fix and build computers to make some extra money.


Torre completed the 20-day Earn and Learn work-readiness training course at Focus: HOPE. Torre’s class was the first one at Focus: HOPE. It had 22 participants, all of whom graduated. Torre earned valedictorian honors.


“The course emphasizes developing a professional attitude about work and working with others, and I think the lessons can be applied to my life in general to help me succeed,” Torre says.


Once they complete the work-readiness course at either Focus: HOPE or ACCESS, Earn and Learn participants qualify for education and training opportunities, job placement, and additional support services. The part-time jobs are subsidized for a length of time by Earn and Learn, incentivizing employers to hire the prepared and motivated participants, and, at the same time, enabling the participants to gain valuable experience.


“The combination of relevant training, actual work, and strong supports should significantly enhance participants’ prospects of securing long-term employment,” says Linda West, director of Earn and Learn. “We will be rigorously evaluating the program, and hope it will become a national model of uplifting a population that has been historically hard to reach. The success of this program would have significant implications for Detroit and urban communities across the country.”


Torre will be attending Wayne County Community College in January to pursue an associates degree in facility maintenance.


“What really attracted me to Earn and Learn is the paid education opportunity, which I couldn’t afford otherwise, but which is paramount to my future goals.” Torre says. “The help with getting a job is a nice bonus.”


Funding for Earn and Learn blends public and philanthropic dollars. The Michigan Workforce Development Agency provided one-third of the funding. Another third came from The Open Society Foundation’s Special Fund for Poverty Alleviation, administered by the C.S. Mott Foundation. Mott matched the state funds to support subsidized employment and requested that equal funds be leveraged from local private foundations.


The New Economy Initiative (NEI), The Skillman Foundation, and the W.K. Kellogg Foundation provided the remaining one-third of the funds. In addition, The Joyce Foundation, committed funds to perform an independent third party evaluation of the entire statewide initiative.


To be eligible for Earn and Learn, adults must reside in Detroit, Highland Park or Hamtramck. They must be legally able to work and pass a drug test. Interested participants on the east side should contact Focus: HOPE. Those on the west side should contact ACCESS.


Employers interested in the subsidized employment program and hiring participants should contact the job developers at Focus: HOPE and ACCESS, or contact Laurie Diener, senior manager of Earn and Learn, at 313-297-0085.