Earn + Learn starts up again: Helping chronically unemployed get good jobs

Dabiante Fowlkes attends Earn + Learn orientation

Dabiante Fowlkes attends Earn + Learn orientation

[Detroit — December 2014] Even before he came to the Earn and Learn orientation, Dabiante Fowlkes had done his homework and knew which of the three job training opportunities offered by the program would work best for him, given his situation.

“I have a felony background, and although I have really changed my life, it’s been really hard for me to get a job because of the stigma,” said Dabiante, who is 23. He was convicted of a violent crime when he was 17 and served two years. In prison, Dabiante earned his GED, and then started taking classes at a community college after his release. However, he has not been able to continue classes because he cannot afford the tuition.

Dabiante wants to enroll in the blight removal training offered through Earn and Learn because he feels it is his best chance to secure a steady and good-paying job.

“I’ve read that blight removal is an area where companies are willing to look beyond your criminal past and give you a second chance,” Dabiante said. “Once I get this second chance, I intend to work hard and prove myself, and I hope that will open other doors for me.”

Dabiante’s situation exemplifies the important community need that Earn + Learn is meant to help address. The program is an innovative and comprehensive model of workforce development that particularly targets minority men who have been disconnected from the work world for reasons including having a criminal record and incarceration.

Earn + Learn first began in the fall of 2011 as a two-year statewide initiative. In Detroit, the program was led by Southwest Solutions and involved a number of job training and employment partners. During those two years, Earn + Learn helped more than a thousand chronically jobless individuals in the Detroit area gain training opportunities. Of those, more than 800 went to work in either subsidized or unsubsidized jobs, and many of those gained long-term employment. Additionally, about 500 of the Earn + Learn participants got further training at a community college.

Because of the success of the program, Earn + Learn was able to secure new funding – from the W. K. Kellogg Foundation and the New Economy Initiative for Southeast Michigan and — and is now starting up again as “Phase Two.” Focus:HOPE and Southwest Solutions are partnering to provide comprehensive case management and training opportunities for participants.

The first Southwest Solutions’ orientation for Phase Two was held on December 16 at our Adult Learning Lab. About two dozen prospective participants attended the orientation.

Maureen Sheahan, who manages workforce development programs at Southwest Solutions, began the orientation by emphasizing that the program provides an exceptional opportunity which challenges participants and holds them accountable so they can make the most of the opportunity.

“Are you willing to make changes in your life to get the life you want?” Maureen asked attendees.

At the orientation, representatives from three partner organizations that will be providing the workforce development programs which Earn + Learn may offer also spoke. Detroit Training Center spoke about its Blight Removal Training. Detroiters Working for Environmental Justice spoke about its Construction Trades Pre-Apprenticeship Training. The U.S. Truck Driving Training School also presented.

Along with the vocational training, Earn + Learn provides numerous support services and work readiness, math, computer and English skills training. One of the key goals is to have participants improve their academic skills as they gain job skills. The support services include benefits screening, clothing, transportation assistance, financial coaching and more. This comprehensive approach is designed to support participants as they make substantial changes in their lives and prepare for employment and advancement.

To qualify for Earn + Learn, the participant must be a resident of Detroit, Highland Park or Hamtramck, must be able to work legally in the country, and must pass a drug test.

The next Earn + Learn orientation will be held on January 16, 2015 from 8:30 -10:45 AM. Once again, it will be at the Adult Learning Lab at 4214 W. Vernor in southwest Detroit, across from Clark Park. Anyone interested in attending is encouraged to register by contacting Mac Elabed, Earn + Learn Coordinator, by email <ielabed@swsol.org> or 313-297-0078.