ST. CLOUD, Minn. (AP) - What do you do with a 21-year-old man who speaks limited English, has no work experience and hasn’t had enough time to complete a high school diploma, but needs to help support his family?
In the past, many would have answered with a shrug, the St. Cloud Times reported .
Now, staff with Career Solutions and the St. Cloud school district Adult Basic Education have found a way to get that student all three qualifications, said Tammy Biery, executive director of Career Solutions, formerly the Stearns-Benton Employment and Training Council.
In just a few weeks this summer, the two groups came up with a plan for a growing number of St. Cloud immigrants who aren’t able to earn a diploma by the time they age out of the system. They likely have few skills in working in a U.S. workplace and may still be learning English.
“High school counselors are seeing an increase in the number of students, primarily immigrants or refugees, who haven’t been in school enough years to earn the credit to graduate,” said Laurie Leitch, adult high school diploma coordinator for Central Minnesota Adult Basic Education in St. Cloud.
In Minnesota, state law says people can continue in K-12 schools until age 21. In St. Cloud, they allow individuals to finish the school year.
Getting them into traditional Adult Basic Education programs was difficult.
“They’re 21. They don’t want to be in class with moms and grandma,” Leitch said. “And they of course need to work to help support families.”
Leitch was alerted to the problem by high school counselors in District 742, but she says it’s likely other schools in the ABE consortium, including Sauk Rapids and Little Falls, will be dealing with the same problem.
“The counselors don’t think this is going to be a short-term issue,” Leitch said.
Having worked with The Coleman Co. Inc. in Sauk Rapids before, they were quickly able to pull together a five-week program. Coleman manufactures outdoor and recreation products.
The pilot program had 14 students, men and women, who have been in the country from one to five years.
Local Somali elder Jama Alimad served as a volunteer mentor. Students spent several hours a day, four days a week at Coleman Co.
Each day, they’d get an hour of training on work-readiness and job skills, three or four hours of instruction on English or math, and a few hours on the floor, training and working with Coleman staff.
While the students learned some skills specific to Coleman, such as sewing and screen printing, they also were taught production safety, work-related vocabulary as well as soft skills, including organization, time management, responsibility, teamwork and leadership.
Career Solutions paid a stipend to the students, tied to their performance, including showing up, showing up on time, dressing appropriately for work and having the right attitude to work.
At the end of the program, the students could choose to apply for permanent positions with Coleman.
But they also leave the program with work experience and job skills, and they’re one step closer to achieving a degree.
Career Solutions secured grants from the Otto Bremer Foundation and the Initiative Foundation to help pay for the program.
Biery and Leitch said the program reminds them of the early days of GNP Academy, a program at St. Cloud Technical & Community College that helps prepare workers - especially ones with limited English skills - for jobs with what was then Gold’N Plump. That program also started small, in company meeting rooms, but has developed to an eight-credit certificate program at the tech college.
Both Biery and Leitch are excited about how the pilot went and hopes it leads to something more.
Many did a lot of academic work.
“I was amazed how much work some of them did,” Leitch said. “The dedication was just incredible.”
They were impressed by the students’ abilities and commitment.
“I think we were able to get a group of young adults … and give them a real focus and a purpose to do quality work, to gain a lot of skills. … in a very short period of time,” Leitch said.
She knows there can be stereotypes about students who don’t get a traditional diploma, that they’re in some way too lazy or too dumb to earn a diploma.
“This group has proven that giving them an opportunity to be able to continue their education and an opportunity to develop work-readiness skills pays off,” Leitch said. “That showed quite clearly that (the stereotypes are) really not true.”
She suspects this type of intensive training may become more normal as local companies look to fill jobs. She hopes this type of program may be part of that.
She gives a lot of credit to Career Solutions staff, who came up with creative financing.
“And to Coleman, for saying yes without having very (much) information about what they were getting into,” Leitch said.
She hopes more employers will invest in training people from the community, especially refugees and immigrants.
“We would like to grow it to have more participants,” Leitch said. “Now that we have time to plan for next spring … we’ll have more time to be able to communicate with counseling staff to make sure students are aware.”
Information from: St. Cloud Times, https://www.sctimes.com
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