Jeff Wold, left, and Bob Hocking, employment counselor for AEOA, visited outside Hibbing Fabricators, where Wold was hired as a full-time welder.
VIRGINIA — A short-term green energy training program in northeastern Minnesota generated full-time, living wage jobs for seven grateful participants. But the program’s impact can be measured not only in job creation, but in the benefits to those who did not immediately secure employment.
The Sustainable Employment through Training & Trade (SETT) Program, known as “Get SETT,” was a unique first-time effort to serve 30 unemployed or under employed individuals and help each of them secure lasting employment. The program, made possible by a grant to the Arrowhead Economic Opportunity Agency (AEOA) in Virginia, Minn., offered a holistic approach to developing an individual’s potential. Each client worked closely with a case manager or job developer to access supportive pre-training services, green energy training, paid internships, job-seeking tools, and enhanced self-esteem. AEOA partnered with Mesabi Range Community and Technical College in Virginia and Eveleth and Hibbing Community College to provide training in the green energy fields. The program was condensed into a short six-month period ending in April 2012.
“This program was much more than a make-work program,” said John Pettinari, assistant director of Employment and Training for AEOA. “For many who didn’t secure full-time jobs, it was a good start and a first opportunity for post-secondary education. Hopefully, many will take this education and build on it. Get SETT planted a seed for personal and professional growth for all of our participants.”
Green energy training
Students took classes in either Green Construction curriculum at Mesabi Range Community and Technical College or in the Green Manufacturing curriculum at Hibbing Community College. A specialized certificate was awarded for each. The Green Construction certificate focused on proper techniques for responsible use of natural resources in building construction, with an introduction to green building rating systems. The Green Manufacturing classes included introduction to machinery, production training, HVAC theory, welding, math for manufacturing, and safety procedures in manufacturing and fabricating.
The classroom training and internships at local businesses made for strong academic and experiential program components. But it was the services surrounding those parts that greatly enhanced success. For instance, students were pre-screened to ensure they were a good fit for the program. They were also given the support needed upfront to succeed. Referrals to Adult Basic Education were made for some students needing to enhance their computer skills and college prep skills.
Also, a STEPS program—Steps to Economic and Personal Success—was provided to build confidence in each student and reduce turnover. Each student worked with a job developer to identify and overcome barriers. For instance, many students had personal challenges such as home foreclosures, transportation issues, child care logistics, and medical concerns. The job developers provided direction to address those barriers.
“Most of our participants had issues that might have derailed their progress,” said Bob Hocking, an employment counselor for AEOA. “So, a lot of what we did was to build trust with clients and help them access services and support to get past their obstacles.”
Internship paved way to permanent job
Jeff Wold, a 43-year-old father of three children, was one who welcomed the Get SETT Program. He was recovering from some health issues and turning his life around when he joined the program. The Green Manufacturing training allowed him to develop new skills and refine his welding skills. He interned with Hibbing Fabricators as a welder and was so impressive that they hired him full-time. Wold was one of 16 to earn a paid internship with an employer that implements green practices.
“Jeff had been unemployed for a while,” said Hocking, “But he was a motivated, independent, take-charge guy, and Hibbing Fabricators liked him a lot. He demonstrated outstanding skills and a great team attitude, and he was rewarded with a good job.”
“The Get SETT Program was a great opportunity for me,” Wold said. “It was a godsend. I recommend it for anybody having a hard to time finding a job. For people struggling and needing a little extra help, it offered the support, schooling, and on-the-job training needed to succeed.”
‘Mature worker’ hones his skills
James Christianson is another Get SETT success story, but his training did not end with a permanent job—not yet. At 58 years old, he was looking to upgrade his skill set and anxious to obtain training to enhance his resume as a “mature worker.” He drove 100 miles round trip each day between Aurora and Hibbing to complete his Green Manufacturing training. He worked closely with Hocking to update his resume and highlight his new “green skills.” He secured a full-time internship as an environmental technician with Detroit Diesel-Remanufacturing of Hibbing.
“While working for Detroit Diesel, Jim put his waste water treatment background to use and worked closely with associates to save the company substantial sums on waste treatment and water utilization costs,” said Hocking. “They loved him, but they weren’t able to hire him permanently for financial reasons.”
The Get SETT experience was a boost to Jim’s confidence, and he also reached out to help other students. “He was a pleasure to work with,” Hocking said. “He said he wants to work until he’s 70, so he is motivated and looking for permanent employment. With his waste water management experience and upgraded skills, he’ll find something. He’s more marketable now.”
Businesses buy in to Get SETT
Get SETT won praises from the local business community. “Employers were ecstatic to have this type of program in their community,” said Pettinari. “Students were able to get valuable work experience that they otherwise would not have had, so the paid internship component attracted employers to provide a nurturing work environment and help each individual grow professionally and personally.”
The program allowed AEOA to gain valuable knowledge of the workforce and prospects for jobs in the region. Contacts were established within the business community and relationships have been cultivated to where AEOA now has a list of employers that would be willing to participate in future programs like Get SETT. So, much of the groundwork to recruit worksites has been done.
“Employers were calling me after the fact, wanting to get on board in the future,” said Hocking. “So, the word is out there in the community.”
Seven Get SETT participants earned full-time jobs, including three in the construction field, and more full-time jobs are imminent. Hocking said if more students were interested in the trades or furnace technician work, he could have placed them all.
“We wish we could have placed all 30 in good-paying jobs, but the reality is the economy is still struggling in our area,” said Pettinari. “Many businesses that provided internships would have loved to hire their interns, but it wasn’t in their budgets at this time.”
Get SETT was made possible by a $232,979 grant from the U.S. Department of Energy and the Minnesota Department of Commerce, Division of Energy Resources through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA). Pettinari and Hocking say they think Get SETT is a model program, one they hope can attract future funding sources to keep the momentum going.
“It is important to note how much the schooling and work has changed the mindset of our students,” said Pettinari. “The emotional well-being and the enhanced sense of self-worth was clearly a highlight of the grant.
“Overall, our community benefited most from this grant,” he continued. “Local individuals were trained at our local community colleges and were placed with local employers for their internships to utilize classroom training. This was a first-ever partnership between AEOA, local community colleges, and the business community. This is something the counties we serve should be proud of. The meaningful impact of the program will be felt for many years to come.”