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A new United Way of Bartholomew County workforce development pilot project will launch by early next year.
Bartholomew County Works, in the planning stages since early this year, will be modeled after the highly successful and much-copied Cincinnati Works Inc. It places 800 people in entry-level jobs annually and sees 300 people per year get off public assistance.
The local program, funded by a $330,000 Lilly Endowment grant, aims to boost the financial stability of about 20 lower-
income residents by helping them develop skills to secure higher-paying jobs. Then, organizers hope to find funding to expand it.
That plan is part of a United Way strategy to help give more residents financial stability. Its other two goals in the next five years are to bolster residents’ health and education.
“The planning has not moved quite as fast as we originally hoped,” said United Way President Mark Stewart, acknowledging that initial plans aimed for an earlier launch. “But we want to make sure we get it right the first time. We are dealing with people’s lives here.
“And many of them have gotten their hopes up before. We realize they will be putting themselves out there, and we want to be mindful of that.”
A Six Sigma team has been handling some of the foundational elements of the new program with the help of Cheri Stone, United Way’s community impact director, and also Columbus performance improvement consultant Jim Battin. A group of planners has been meeting three times per week to get the program started.
Stewart estimates that Bartholomew County Works is about 70 percent ready to go. He said prospective workers likely will be screened beginning in November. A Bartholomew County Works coordinator will be hired soon.
Stone believes its chances of catching on long-term with area employers and workers is strong.
“I think the time is right for this,” Stone said. “Everybody we have talked to, from businesses to government, has been very interested.”
Under the current plan, the pilot project would employ 20 people with job coaches. Ten currently underemployed people will be placed in manufacturing positions, earning an estimated $12 to $15 per hour with Cummins Inc. Another 10 inexperienced workers with job coaches will be placed in unskilled, entry-level positions at places such as Columbus Regional Hospital and local restaurants, or in the service industry.
The job coaches’ role will be to keep those workers focused and employed.
“This really bridges the gap between the social services and the business community,” Stewart said. “And we especially like the fact that it sees and will treat the participants as the assets that they are.”
The long-term goal of Bartholomew County Works, according to Stewart, is to give workers financial stability, earning a minimum of about $16 per hour.
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