THE DETROIT JOB ALLIANCE – A PARADIGM SHIFT IN WORKFORCE DEVELOPMENT
By Lori Ella Miller
The Detroit Job Alliance (DJA) made its debut to the public on Tuesday, May 7th. This may have been the DJA’s official coming out party, but the organization has been working behind the scenes for the past 18months to make their vision a reality.
That vision: Creating a Detroit in which all residents have the skills and resources needed to have sustainable career pathways and livelihoods that allow them to actively participate in this city’s growing economy.
According to Kendra L. Howard, Community Engagement Director for the Detroit Jobs Alliance, “The Detroit Jobs Alliance is a growing coalition of public and nonprofit organizations that are collaborating to support employment and careers for all Detroiters.”
The DJA received an infusion of funding in the amount of $450,000 from the Detroit Regional Workforce Fund (DRWF). The money was a catalyst for moving the DJA forward and embarking upon its mission to create an alliance of stakeholders with a shared commitment to help all Detroit adult residents develop skills and provide access to sustainable careers. The DJA represents a paradigm shift in the approach to building a new, broad-based prosperity model based on collective input and action.
It is not an employment service, but rather an organization that helps its “alliance members” operate more efficiently. It is a natural and organic space for collaboration, coordination and community outreach.
The DJA operates on a premise that the whole can be a greater force than the sum of its individual parts. To that end, the DJA assembled a network of 70 non-profit organizations, faith-based groups, job trainers, community resident groups, social science researchers, educational institutions and public agencies — all partnering to support pathways to employment and careers for all Detroiters. This coalition of community players includes organizations, such as Henry Ford Community College, Focus: Hope and SER Metro in Southwest Detroit.
The DJA and its members are also connecting experienced workers with opportunities to develop new skill sets to compete in this changing economy.
Meet Allen Gayle. Gayle was a young man who graduated from high school and began evaluating his options for the future. Like so many others, he was uncertain about how to advance his life and career. He looked for some direction, and thanks to DJA partner resources, Gayle was able to enroll in and complete a four-week Earn and Learn program. He earned a proficiency certificate in customer service, studying and concentrating on Michigan OSHA standards, CPR and First Aid. This was a spring board for him, and after completing additional course work, he went on to enroll at the Michigan Institute of Aviation and Technology. Upon completion of his studies, he was greeted with offers for several positions. He selected a job that relocated him to Lansing, Michigan. Today, Allen Gayle is a member of a team of trained professionals who travel across the country repairing wind turbines. The experience opened doors for Gayle, gave his life new direction and helped him land a lucrative and rewarding career.
The DJA is also working diligently to create ways to use technology to help connect Detroit residents to jobs and valuable employment resources. David Tinsley of the University of Michigan Detroit Center is a member of a DJA committee looking at new approaches that would do just that.
Tinsley and the DJA committee ascertained that many Detroiters connect to the internet via smartphones rather than computers. This DJA action team came up with a plan to design a downloadable smartphone App to showcase job training and employment success stories, as well as provide a list of jobs leads powered by Detroit Employment Solutions Corporation, a Michigan Works agency. The easy-to-use App will be a great tool for both job seekers and employers, and is slated to go live in late 2013.
It is said that: “You must be the change you want to see in the world.” The Detroit Job Alliance and its coalition believe in changing the old model and creating a new approach to help solve Detroit’s workforce and economic development challenges.
THE DRWF AND EASTERN MARKET FOOD INCUBATION PROGRAM YIELDS BOUNTY OF SUCCESS FOR YOUNG ENTREPRENEURS
By Lori Ella Miller
The Detroit Regional Workforce Fund (DRWF) working in collaboration with one of its community partners, Eastern Market Corporation, funded several food business incubation projects to support the hopes and dreams of a number of Detroit-based entrepreneurs, businesses and grass-roots organizations like the Detroit Food Academy.
Formerly known as the Detroit Youth Food Brigade, the Detroit Food Academy is a unique and symbiotic collaboration between local high school age students, food-based businesses and neighborhood markets. The overall goal of the organization is to empower Detroit high school students by providing them with the experience of crafting socially, environmentally and economically healthy food and bringing it to the marketplace.
The Detroit Food Academy was established in the summer of 2011 by Noam Kimelman, owner of Fresh Corner Café and Jen Rusciano, a food systems educator who now serves as the organization’s Executive Director of Operations. It started as a seasonal opportunity for high school students to obtain first-hand experience in the food business. Detroit Food Academy students teamed up with the local growers and businesses during Eastern Market’s Tuesday marketplace to sell fresh fruits and vegetables and locally sourced value-added products.
In the fall of 2012, the DRWF provided the Detroit Food Academy with $20,000 to help fund the expansion of its Eastern Market program. This infusion of funding took the program to a new level, and afforded approximately 20 Food Academy participants the chance to craft and launch their own socially conscious food businesses. These young lions of commerce sold their wares at the weekly Tuesday markets. They offered a variety of healthy food items, including veggie chips and gourmet dips.
“The Detroit Food Academy is offering a unique and engaging hands-on educational experience. We are using the medium of food and entrepreneurship to teach skills that can be used in the real world,” said Jen Rusciano, Detroit Food Academy Executive Director of Operations. “We work to inspire confidence in our students for personal growth and we spend a lot of time on ideals, values, leadership and justice.”
The Eastern Market program proved so successful that the Detroit Food Academy now operates a year-round curriculum. The students who go through the Detroit Food Academy now receive valuable training, a certification in food entrepreneurship, access to a network of potential employers and mentoring from businesses and local community leaders.
The program is open to individuals from ages 14 to 22, who show a clear desire to develop themselves professionally through the program by being dedicated, conscientious, and respectful. Since its inception, more than 100 students have participated — each has a unique story to tell, including one of the Academy’s shining stars 21 year-old Desmond Burkett.
Desmond was one of the first participants in the 2011 Eastern Market summer program. He had decided to drop out of high school and was merely looking for summer employment. Something about the Eastern market opportunity resonated with him. After he completed the first summer program, he returned in 2012, and became so inspired by the educators and his business associates, called “cohorts”, that he decided to earn his GED. Today, he is still with the Detroit Food Academy in a leadership role and oversees a student-run business that is developing several innovative products, including “Fruit Leather,” which is a healthy alternative to fruit roll-ups and apple sauce muffins. Desmond is using his past experience to coach his cohorts as they prepare to debut their enterprise at the Tuesday Eastern Market this summer.
“Kids can actually make a difference in our communities…be leaders instead of being out in the streets. I’m going back to school to get my high school diploma and go to college to become a teacher,” said Desmond, who also says this program helped him find out what he wanted to do with his life.
What’s ahead for the Detroit Food Academy? According to Rusciano, the organization hopes to continue to grow to the point where it can offer paid leadership positions to young Detroiters, and create engaging, skill- building experiences that will be accessible to as many young people as possible. The Detroit Food Academy is also looking for more teachers and educators to become involved.
As for the young entrepreneurs like Desmond and his cohorts, look for them at Eastern Market this summer and buy their products. Revenue from all of the sales is invested back into each student-run business. A bountiful economic harvest for all!