December 1, 2014

Aerospace training program aims to create jobs for Hartford's homeless

PHOTO | Contributed
PHOTO | Contributed
Pictured above are participants in the Aerospace Employment Placement Program: (L-R) Charles Jones, Francis Henry, Ted Harris, Alexis McDade, John Perry, Randy Vega and Tanya Walker.

In an attempt to help Connecticut manufacturers cope with a skilled-labor shortage, a Hartford nonprofit and Windsor-based staffing agency have developed a new program to train homeless residents for in-demand positions, particularly in the aerospace industry.

The collaborative effort between Journey Home Inc., which seeks to end homelessness in Hartford, and Belcan Corp., which specializes in engineering, staffing and workforce development, will create employment opportunities for eight Hartford residents who have experienced homelessness.

In July 2014, Journey Home received a $35,000 grant to implement the Aerospace Employment Placement Program (AEPP).

AEPP is the brainchild of Roy Mainelli, Journey Home's economic security manager, who spent 33 years working in the aerospace industry before retiring and joining the nonprofit sector.

Growing up in Hartford, Mainelli said he has a deep-rooted passion for the city. When he started working with Journey Home in April 2013, he saw that the organization focused much of its efforts on housing for Hartford's underprivileged.

Subsequently, Mainelli decided to develop a strategy to focus on employment and to target reducing homelessness through education.

Mainelli's plan was to offer an educational opportunity to a group of Journey Home's clients that would include a job guarantee.

"One of the premises of our program is to try to find the job first and get it locked down before training the clients. While the clients are for training, they don't want to be trained for the sake of training," Mainelli said. "So our activity has been to go to the employer and say 'What do you need? If I get you people [who are] trained in — for example, supply chain — would you be willing to hire them?' And if they say 'yes,' then we go identify the clients and get them trained."

Belcan, which specializes in providing workers for aerospace companies, agreed to hire all eight AEPP candidates.

Over a 12-month period, Journey Homes' job candidates will take classes at Goodwin College, receive on-site training at Belcan and begin their entry-level supply chain positions. They will also be eligible to receive national certification from the Manufacturing Skill Standards Council (MSSC) once they have completed two courses at Goodwin College and pass the MSSC exam.

Journey Home partnered with local nonprofits, The Salvation Army Marshall House and Open Hearth, to identify the eight individuals currently enrolled in AEPP and set to complete their classes at Goodwin College in December.

The candidates will each begin their employment at Belcan no later than Feb. 2015.

In addition to the $35,000 community development block grant, Journey Home was also able to secure a $90,000 Homeless Veterans Reintegration Program grant, to help reintegrate homeless veterans into meaningful employment.

Mainelli said Journey Home's objective is to enroll 40 veterans into HVRP and to find employment for 35 of them. Two veterans have already been assigned to AEPP and will work at Belcan next year.

Mainelli said AEPP will benefit candidates as well as potential employers in several key ways.

"You have a group of people who are willing to work at a fairly low wage relative to what these manufacturing companies are paying; so they can become a low cost source, initially, for some of these companies," Mainelli explained. "[The candidates] are starting at a salary somewhat lower than an incoming employee would, but significantly higher than what they would get working at a minimum wage job. So it serves the businesses' purposes as well as the clients."

Steve Houghtaling, Belcan's general manager, said the program is in line with the company's mission to be a positive force in the community. It will also meet the company's need for low-to mid-level skilled employees.

While one expected outcome of AEPP is targeted training that corresponds directly to an immediate employment opportunity, Mainelli said he is hopeful that some of the candidates will continue with their education since the program sets them up to be able to obtain associate's and bachelor's degrees in the field.

"Clients, in this program, range from people with degrees to people with GEDs," said Mainelli. "They were facing a lot of barriers and now they are just looking for another opportunity to start their careers again; they are looking for a second chance."

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