COVID-19 forced the National Center on Institutions and Alternatives to re-think the execution of its workforce development programs.
With a mission to get people back to work, the National Center on Institutions and Alternatives (NCIA) provides vocational training, employment case management, professional credentialing, and job placement to economically disadvantaged individuals. However, fulfilling its mission became much more challenging when the COVID-19 pandemic hit. With increased unemployment, NCIA saw a significant increase in the needs for its services, particularly with its Herbert J. Hoelter Vocational Training Center (VTC).
“We have seen enrollments for our programs at 164% of what we budgeted for,” said Katie Hoelter, NCIA’s Regional Executive Director. “The VTC serves low-income people who are rebuilding their lives after crises, and many of our participants have had housing emergencies, increased food insecurity, and other challenges related to the national shutdown.”
The NCIA adapted its workforce development program quickly to account for the challenges presented by COVID-19. The organization created a virtual learning environment by providing tablets, mobile internet hotspots, and mobile phones for its students.
“We paid for the data plans for all participants who were not connected to the internet at home so they could pursue their vocational training and professional certifications,” Hoelter said.
In order to shift to virtual learning and stay safe during the pandemic, the NCIA received COVID-19 relief funding from The City of Charlotte’s Open for Business initiative to support 105 students.
“The Workforce Partner Support Grant was critical for us to maintain operations,” Hoelter said. “It supported us in purchasing the necessary equipment to pivot to a virtual model so that we could continue the classroom training without interruption.”
The funding allowed NCIA to purchase training equipment including a CDL simulator, HVAC training units, and 20 laptops. NCIA also provided stipends for students who were unemployed from the pandemic, transportation costs, and COVID-19 cleaning supplies for its program operations.
“The technical equipment will give our graduates an edge in the job market because they will now have experience with the equipment they will use in their fields,” Hoelter added.
The graduates of NCIA’s program are on track to gain professionally recognized credentials in HVAC repair, commercial driving, and automotive repair. The program expects to place all graduates with employer partners in jobs with an average starting wage of at least $16 per hour.
“We are incredibly proud of this cohort, who was able to complete this step on their path to financial independence even throughout an unprecedented global crisis,” Hoelter said.
As a result of the grant funding and NCIA’s commitment to its mission, the organization provided a positive outlook to many who were financially impacted by COVID-19.
Although many benefited from NCIA’s program, one student named Raymon expressed particular gratitude for the opportunity. He became homeless and had to stay at a shelter after losing his job to take time off for a medical procedure. He learned about NCIA’s VTC program while at a homeless shelter and committed to doing everything he could to find a job.
“I challenged myself to make sure that I was there on time daily and studied extra, extra hard,” Raymon said. “With NCIA by my side, I overcame a lot of barriers. … NCIA gave me the opportunity to live again – to be able to focus, to be able to grow again.”
Hoelter added: “He showed incredible resolve to clear his barriers to employment and worked hard to graduate from the program.”
After successfully adapting during COVID-19, NCIA plans to grow its program by increasing the number of people it can serve in 2021. The organization also intends to grow its network of employer partners to give graduates even more opportunities in the future.
National Center on Institutions and Alternatives received a Workforce Partners Support Grant from The City of Charlotte’s Open for Business initiative. Through the grant program, the City of Charlotte has awarded $3.5 million to workforce partners to provide programs for our community.