Career Pathways Initiative Partners Reflect on First Three Years of Collaboration and Chart a Path for the Future

While Connecticut is one of the wealthiest states in the nation, Hartford and some of its inner suburbs are among our nation’s poorest, having experienced much higher unemployment rates than the regional and state averages. At the same time, several industries in Connecticut have expressed a need for more skilled workers. To help bridge the gap, the region’s nonprofit community and institutions of higher education have responded by offering programs to teach workers the skills they need to do these unfilled jobs. 

Many of our region’s residents have not been able to take advantage of these training and credentialing opportunities, however, because they did not know how to access the programs, were unaware of how these programs could lead to high-paying careers, or had not developed the required levels of literacy to participate in the training programs.

In December 2015, the Hartford Foundation for Public Giving launched Career Pathways Initiative (CPI) committing $4.5 million over three years. CPI takes a collaborative, cross-sector approach to provide Greater Hartford residents with education and workforce training that prepares them to work in industries that have job openings.

On Thursday, October 11, more than 60 providers and other stakeholders came together at the Chrysalis Center’s Training and Conference Center in Hartford to discuss progress made and lessons learned. Some of the key takeaways highlighted the importance of:

  • Recognizing that this work is challenging and requires a long-term commitment.
  • Building trusting relationships between providers, clients, educators and employers.
  • Open communication and flexibility to clearly establish roles and integrate services among partners.
  • Reaching out to people “where they are” and leveraging partner connections to new populations.
  • Providing opportunities for program participants to talk with one another
  • Responding to real needs by providing stipends and access to transportation helps to ensure greater success.
  • Identifying ways to sustain and build upon progress by finding new funding streams. 

The event started with an inspiring and informative presentation from James Jeter, a Tow Fellow at the Yale Prison Education Initiative, and Kennard Ray, campaign manager at Blue Ribbon Strategies. The pair discussed the challenges faced by returning citizens (individuals who have completed their time in prison) as they attempt to reenter the community. Using his own experiences as a returning citizen, Jeter discussed the need to connect and educate people and program providers about the wide array of services available to support basic needs (such as food, housing and medical services) as well as workforce and education programs. The two men also talked about the importance of case management services and stipends to help cover basic expenses. During the intake process, service providers must do more than simply ask people to fill out forms. It was not until Jeter encountered a staff person who actually took the time to talk and ask him about what he wanted and needed, kept in touch and developed a trusting relationship with him, that he finally found a path forward.  Jeter and Ray emphasized many of these ideas extended beyond the reentry population—they apply to people with low-literacy skills, single parents and others who have multiple challenges to securing employment, the people served in the Career Pathways Initiative.

There were three sessions held including one facilitated by MoveUp’s Sarah Dudzic entitled “Reflections of three years of Career Pathways” focused on what has changed in provider programs and organizations since the CPI work first began. The second session facilitated by program evaluators Victoria Daugherty and Emily Melnick focused on what partners learned about multi-sector partnerships. The final session led by workforce development consultant Judith Lorei asked providers to share gaps, barriers and benefits to cross-site collaboration.

Several providers had talked about forming partnerships with other nonprofits working with similar populations, but the Foundation’s Career Pathways Initiative gave them “an excuse to do this” by providing a structure. By working with new partners, providers built new connections to adult literacy, community college and other education partners that helped more effectively meet people’s needs. There continue to be significant challenges in engaging potential employers and better understanding their current and future needs.  All of those in attendance appreciated the help they received to accurately measure and evaluate their work and expressed a desire to find even better ways to monitor progress and share success.

“This was our eighth CPI community learning session,” said Hartford Foundation Director of Grants and Partnership Investments Judy McBride.  “The sharing of what’s working and the challenges faced across program sites allows the Foundation to go beyond providing financial support and be a partner in promoting best practices, assessing lessons and ideas that hopefully can improve outcomes.”

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