Helping Workforce Development Organizations Open New Career Pathways

Tuesday, June 23, 2020

Three workforce development organizations had bold ideas for launching new programs to expand access to careers in growing industries. The IMPAQ/Maher Education Fund is helping to bring their visions to reality.

For many Americans, the coronavirus pandemic and the millions of jobless claims left in its wake are a reminder of the value of careers in high-demand, skilled professions. However, costly tuition rates at colleges and universities, combined with a lack of awareness of alternative options, make it difficult for many individuals to develop the skills and expertise needed to embark on secure career pathways.

While federal and state governments must build the foundation for effective workforce development policies and programs, local city and county-based workforce development organizations play an integral role in recruiting, training, and certifying jobseekers to meet current economic demands.

“Through these organizations, jobseekers learn about local career opportunities, build their skills, and receive other types of personal and professional support, all at minimal or no cost,” explains IMPAQ President Dr. Adaeze Enekwechi. “Not only do workforce development programs fuel local economies, they empower residents to obtain well-paying jobs and can ultimately help shift cycles of generational poverty.”

Investing in Local Workforce Development Organizations

In 2019, IMPAQ and Maher & Maher conducted a competitive process to award three $20,000 grants to organizations working to deliver quality workforce development services in two of the local markets where our offices are located.

Recipients of the grants included:

“Through the award, we hoped to empower workforce development organizations to test their best ideas for serving community members in new ways,” says Beth Brinly, Vice President of Workforce Innovation at Maher & Maher. “These organizations provide an impressive variety of services on limited budgets. With funding for pilot programs, they are able to learn what works in order to dedicate resources where they will have the greatest impact.”

The Challenge: Addressing the Patient Care Gap

Anne Arundel Workforce Development Corporation

The COVID-19 crisis has reemphasized the importance of the healthcare workforce, especially in hospital settings. In Maryland, a growing aging population has already placed increased demands on the health care system in recent years, leaving hospitals struggling to fill positions for certified, well-trained care providers. Without proper staffing, both patient care and employee morale suffer.

“We wanted to launch the Patient Care Technician (PCT) program because our health care industry representatives tell us they are in urgent need of certified staff now,” said Kirk Murray, President and CEO of the Anne Arundel Workforce Development Corporation (AAWDC). “This certification gets our job seekers in the door of the health care field and positions them to skill up to the next level of training.”

Finding Success in Serving Others

Working in health care has been a lifelong dream for Michelle Church, who was inspired at a young age by her grandmother’s nursing career. When she learned of the new PCT training and certification program at AAWDC, she registered immediately.

“Working two jobs, going to school, and raising a family as a single mother was not easy,” said Michelle. “But what you put in is what you get out. I put in everything because I knew it was going to benefit my family.”

Michelle Church graduated from AAWC’s new Patient Care Technician course, launched with funding from IMPAQ. With her new skills and credential, Michelle transitioned from being an uncertified health aide to becoming a PCT at a hospital with a better salary.

The inaugural class of the program had a 100 percent completion rate, including Michelle. With her new certification, she secured a job at a hospital with a better salary and is already taking steps to further her education. Michelle returned to AAWDC to speak with and inspire the next class of students, whose training, like Michelle’s, is tuition-free.

AAWDC reported that nine out of ten students of the first PCT program were hired by local hospitals, with an average salary increase of 35 percent. With health care the fastest growing industry in the area, the opportunities for advancement are abundant.

The Challenge: Reaching Immigrant Communities with Job Training

Employ Prince George’s Inc.

In Prince George’s county, Maryland, individuals in the growing immigrant population are often unaware of free career services available to them through workforce development boards, which offer alternatives to short-term, low-paying jobs. Adding to this challenge, increased worries about citizenship crackdowns leave many people wary of government programs, regardless of their immigration status. To serve these communities effectively, workforce development organizations must find creative ways to build trust and convey the value they offer.

With IMPAQ grant funding, Employ Prince George’s Inc. (EPG) partnered for the first time with CASA de Maryland, a nonprofit that serves Spanish-speaking immigrant communities. Their goal?  Reach local English Language Learner (ELL) job seekers with training for careers in the growing field of solar energy.

Overcoming Program Recruitment Challenges

“Our greatest challenge is awareness,” said Jeffrey Swilley, Executive Vice President of EPG. “Sometimes the people that need us the most don’t know we’re here.”

Through the collaboration with CASA, Spanish-speaking program representatives knocked on doors in immigrant communities, explaining the opportunity and building much-needed trust capital. The team successfully recruited a small group of program participants, who learned how to install solar panels and received kits filled with construction tools upon successful course completion.

“When the trainees received their tools through our program they were very excited and thankful,” said Patricia Blackwell, Assistant Director of Job Seeker Services, EPG. “This created a buzz within the community and encouraged others to sign up for the next class.”

A Learning Experience for Everyone

Launching this program was an important opportunity for the EPG team to learn more about serving immigrant populations. “It’s clear that the people in this class weren’t the only learners from this grant,”  said Rick Maher, founder of IMPAQ company Maher & Maher and co-creator of the Education Fund.

Blackwell agrees. “IMPAQ/Maher funding has allowed us to work more closely with a community organization such as CASA and has afforded us priceless lessons that will help us in our programming,” she said. “Using a grassroots, community-based approach, we were able to make headway into the recruitment of job seekers who would not normally seek our services.”

EPG reported that all participants who completed the training gained employment. Program leaders plan to continue offering the training to more learners with additional components to build on the success of this first course. In addition, EPG plans to work with the International Rescue Committee to engage and enroll English Language Learner immigrants and residents from Middle Eastern and African diaspora communities.

The Challenge: Sparking Interest in Welding

The Greater Raritan Workforce Development Board

A program participant displays his welding abilities at the Raritan Valley Community College welding workshop, where he and his classmates attended free evening classes to prepare for a certification in this high-demand skill.

Building Stackable Skills to Increase Earning Potential

Workers in skilled trades such as construction, manufacturing, and mechanical repair are in demand as a large generation of tradespeople reaches retirement. However, many workers do not see a clear path to developing the skills they need to advance in a trade field, or are not able to take time away from work to focus on education.  

To address this challenge, the Greater Raritan Workforce Development Board (GRWDB), along with the Raritan Valley Community College (RVCC), used IMPAQ’s grant funding to launch a welding program. The program aims to place students in livable wage jobs and engage them in further career training, particularly within advanced manufacturing, where the Certified Welder and Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) certificate can lead to further stackable credentials and higher wages.

Danny Flores, a self-taught mechanic and participant in the welding course, was grateful for the opportunity to learn a valuable skill he can use in his job at an auto body shop. He previously attended community college by paying out-of-pocket, but said that he could not afford to make school a priority. Danny shared that the tuition-free, weeknight welding courses allowed him to increase his earning potential without interrupting his income. “I feel proud of what I accomplished,” said Danny. “Furthering my education is a good investment in myself.”  

Welding program participant Danny Flores shares how the course increased his confidence and earning potential while speaking with IMPAQ and Maher executives during a visit to RVCC.

A New Chapter for the Workforce Development Board

In a local news article, GRWDB Director Paul Grzella discussed the importance of the grant for the Greater Raritan Workforce Development Board. Writes Grzella, “The successful application of the grant money represents the realization of a long-time strategic priority by our board and staff to capture additional non-federal, non-state monies to fund programs and classes that help residents in Hunterdon and Somerset counties find and develop long-term sustainable careers.”

Final Thoughts: The Importance of Testing and Measuring

The learning and growth made possible through these grants—not only for jobseekers but also for the workforce boards—demonstrates the importance of ongoing innovation to maintain pace with economic shifts and learner demand.

“If COVID-19 has taught us anything about the future of work, it is to always expect the unexpected and be prepared to pivot quickly,” says Tina Barretto, IMPAQ Executive Vice President of Workforce & Training Solutions. “By increasing our comfort level with testing new programs and methodologies—and measuring and learning along the way—the workforce development industry will be better equipped to navigate future economic shifts. We will be prepared to learn fast and scale what works.”

Learn about IMPAQ’s data-driven workforce development solutions:



Lisa Habersack, Writer/Content Producer, IMPAQ