The Rapidian

UCOM Celebrates National Workforce Development Month

UCOM has spent the month of September celebrating the Workforce Development program. This program provides career coaching and specialized support for community members seeking next level employment.
Alex, sitting in the kitchen of her new home

Alex, sitting in the kitchen of her new home

Underwriting support from:

Workforce Development Services at UCOM

WFD offers a range of services to help people identify and overcome barriers to employment. Case management monitors progress toward employment goals. Assistance is available for:

  • Career exploration
  • Job/career coaching
  • Skill mining
  • Goal Setting
  • Application/resume/references/cover letter/email/employer communication
  • Practice interview
  • Professional clothing
  • Soft skills
  • Email creation/online navigation instruction
  • Online job search
  • Retention support

UCOM may provide one-time support for unique barrier resolution. This may include a bus pass, tools, car repair, dental work, eyeglasses, refurbished computer or other identified crisis hurdle.

UCOM enjoys partnerships in our community to further the success of participants. Participants can work side by side with people from various job skills training programs in a volunteer capacity. These exchanges provide training and experience interacting with co-workers to help understand workplace boundaries and supervision.

September is National Workforce Development Month

September is National Workforce Development Month

Night of a Million Dreams will support neighbors like Alex

Night of a Million Dreams will support neighbors like Alex

UCOM's vision is a thriving community of empowered neighbors. We want all people to have the resources needed for quality living and hope for a meaningful life and we work to reduce barriers that stand in the way of this vision. Our mission is to value individuals and build community in southwestern Kent County. UCOM does this by providing material and educational assistance to meet basic needs, improve quality of life and promote self-sufficiency. The Workforce Development program at UCOM is one resource community members can access to move towards a life of greater financial stability. People, like Alexandra, have participated in the program and seen success they couldn't even dream of before starting.

Alexandra’s UCOM journey began with a small letter-sized poster hanging in the food pantry. “If you want to learn to take charge of your financial future, sign up for FREE financial literacy classes here at UCOM.” Something sparked in her. She signed up for the class on a whim. She was feeling direction-less, tired and defeated the day she signed up for classes but was energized throughout the course. She set about the weekly homework and soon had financial goals that made sense and seemed achievable. Her husband was on board and by the end of the course Alex was sharing her dream of pursuing a medical career. Alex was referred to the Goodwill Certified Nursing Assistant Program, agreeing to be in a pilot cohort that provided full tuition in exchange for a year’s service at an area long-term care facility. She sailed through the entrance exam, completed the 16 week course, passed the state test and started a full time CNA job. Building on her momentum, Alex created new goals… and achieved them. She paid off debt, saved for holiday giving and taught her children that “good things come to those who wait”.

With each small victory came greater confidence and that confidence grew into bigger dreams. Housing was next on the list. She budgeted, worked extra hours, and saved every dollar beyond for basic expenses. Her husband worked extra shifts, too, and was excited about their progress. They could see results and they were communicating better and working toward shared goals. They pre-qualified for a mortgage, watched for a house in their price range and moved in just shy of the year they had given themselves to reach their home ownership goal.

As she shared her story, Alex became emotional talking about her most meaningful moment of success. “For the first time ever, I was able to pay for my son to be a part of sports. I did that. He loves wrestling and he qualified for the state finals!” To be able to be the person that provided this opportunity to her son was an unexpected and very satisfying bonus for all of the sweat equity and hard work that had taken place over the previous two years.

The ALICE Report: Michigan (2017) identified 52% of Grand Rapids households, 46% of Wyoming households, and 38% of Grandville households as living below a basic survival budget. People of color and women are more likely to be among these low-wage earners, according to Data USA and the Community Research Institute. The unemployment rate in Michigan in 2019 hovers around 4.2%, masking the number of people working at or near minimum wage, which falls short of the amount required to cover basic needs. Underemployment, like Alexandra was facing before UCOM, contributes significantly to household poverty in West Michigan. UCOM sees living wage employment as the primary leverage to lifting individuals above poverty.

In Closing the Skills Gap 2019, Wiley Education reports 64% of employers feel their workers have a skills gap, prompting recruiting challenges and making companies less efficient. UCOM works with local employers to match workers with existing need. If an individual is able and willing, UCOM can connect that client to a training program that adds value to both the individual’s resume and the overall regional workforce competency. UCOM has long standing referral relationships with Jubilee Jobs (for GED services), Express Professionals (for temp-to-hire placements), Hope Network (for entry level positions available to recovering individuals), GRCC (for vocational training), Goodwill (for CNA training), Steepletown (for food service certifications), The Literacy Center West Michigan (for English proficiency services) and Disability Advocates Kent County (for clients who need accommodation).

Through Workforce Development, UCOM is invested in community resource connecting to provide a pathway for individuals, like Alex, to discover, enhance and implement their marketable skills toward building financial independence that fosters community stability and well-being. We believe all persons are capable and deserve opportunity in an equitable environment of service and support. And we will do what we can to open doors and unleash possibility, even when the world is saying otherwise.

Life still holds many challenges, but Alex has developed a skill set that finds solutions rather than hopelessness. She often recalls her life before finding UCOM and says that no matter how hard some days are now, they are nothing like the despair she experienced without the HOPE and ABILITY TO COPE that she gained working with the staff at UCOM. “To have so many people believe in me, especially at a time when I didn’t even believe in myself, made all the difference.” Alex is a beacon of light to her family and to those in her care.

To learn more about UCOM, neighbors like Alex and support resources like Workforce Development, purchase tickets to the Night of a Million Dreams event. This will be held Thursday, October 24 from 6:30-8:30 at the GVSU Eberhard Center.

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