Fast-track trainings create economic opportunity in disadvantaged communities // From the Sarasota Herald-Tribune

Fast-track trainings create economic opportunity in disadvantaged communities

One email from her daughter’s school changed Katrina Tarton’s career path. 

The email about trade training programs sparked her interest. The heating, ventilation and air conditioning maintenance fast-track training stuck out; she could learn something new and challenging.

One week and one phone interview through CareerEdge Funders Collaborative later, Tarton learned she would start a three-month training program in HVAC maintenance offered at Suncoast Technical College in Sarasota.

Nearly a year later, Tarton, 31, has a job in the HVAC field, something she never predicted. The trade training programs through CareerEdge have been offered over the last four years in plumbing, manufacturing and auto technician skillsets in low-income and economically disadvantaged communities.

Since completing the program this summer, Tarton has worked with Badger Bob’s Services. She also entered a three-year apprenticeship program and is in the first year of classes at Suncoast Technical College. Her wage has increased a dollar an hour since starting the apprenticeship.

The programs connect students with multiple employers, allow for higher starting wages and offer a mentorship system throughout that encourages further education – all while being able to work their day jobs. When the program is completed, higher-paying jobs await.

This year, 120 people are enrolled across the four programs to graduate in the spring of 2021. About 98% of the students will have a job upon graduating, said Mireya Eavey, executive vice president of CareerEdge.

“That’s where you’re bringing everyone together toward a common goal to help someone be able to improve their lives. They’re able to earn higher wages, and that’s economic mobility,” Eavey said.

The idea for the fast-track programs came four years ago after community leaders realized the need for affordable trade training that allowed students to continue working during the day. Many in the programs work two jobs, Eavey said.

Beginning with an auto technician fast-track training, the program has expanded to three other areas, HVAC, plumbing and manufacturing.

The need for a faster, more affordable program is prevalent in lower-income communities such as Newtown and North Port, Eavey said.

As the programs expand, an HVAC program will begin in North Port in January of 2021, a fast-track plumbing training will be offered at Manatee Technical College, and a fast-track manufacturing class will begin in the coming months, Eavey said.

Christine Robinson, executive director of The Argus Foundation, worked with Sarasota City Commissioner Willie Shaw to initiate the inaugural HVAC class in Newtown in 2019. A second HVAC program will start in Newtown in spring.

The program also worked with the public defender’s office so individuals with criminal backgrounds who could expunge their records would be able to, Robinson said, allowing more to find work after the programs.

“There had been other construction training in the area years ago, and people would go through the training and come out at the end and discover they couldn’t get a job because they had those barriers,” Robinson said. 

Shaw said the program in Newtown provided local residents with job opportunities in their own community. 

“If you were to travel to any of our job sites on any given morning, you will find a workforce coming to the area from other areas when you have locals standing on the streets in idle. That being the reason why we needed the training,” Shaw said.

Robinson said the Newtown program’s partnership with public and private sectors and the area nonprofits is an example of the “community coming together” for an economically disadvantaged area with higher unemployment rates than the rest of the county.

“This was a great example of the community coming together, many different facets of the community coming together and most importantly listening to what that particular area, that particular community needed and really following through on it, setting aside any political differences and making sure we got it done,” Robinson said.

Tarton can rely on higher pay thanks to the program. And in a time with skyrocketing unemployment rates because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Tarton said she finds comfort in the job security she has.

“The more you learn, the higher your pay goes. They just push me, and they see my drive and they reward that,” she said.