Faith and Community Build HOPE and a Connection to Jobs in Detroit

Blog Post
Photo by Doug Zuba on Unsplash
May 24, 2021

The world of work is changing, but as new jobs emerge employers struggle to find skilled labor. A 2018 study of the US manufacturing industry estimates that 2.4 million positions will go unfilled between 2018 and 2028. While this gap between demand-driven jobs and talent troubles Detroit-based employers, many can turn to a surprising source for skilled labor: faith-based organizations and nonprofits like Focus: HOPE.

Focus: HOPE illustrates that a holistic, intergenerational approach to social justice and economic equity can serve as the scaffolding that anchors successful workforce initiatives. In March 1968, Father William T. Cunningham—who marched with Martin Luther King—founded Focus: HOPE in response to Detroit’s civil unrest. The nonprofit has spent over five decades advocating for underserved and underrepresented populations in southeast Michigan.

“Recognizing the dignity and beauty of every person, we pledge intelligent and practical action to overcome racism, poverty, and injustice. And to build a metropolitan community where all people may live in freedom, harmony, trust and affection.” (Mission Statement)

Today, Focus: HOPE offers Detroit employers a diverse and well-trained labor pool and connects community members to good jobs. It continues to break down barriers of race and gender. “We see ourselves as a conduit for someone who is absolutely capable, but whose potential is untapped,” says Jewel Chapman, the Director of Focus: HOPE’s Workforce Development and Education department.

Focus: HOPE’s redesigned manufacturing program, the Industrial Manufacturing Training Pathway (IMTP), offers students a 15-week pipeline of stackable skills. Participants can enter or exit at the entry, middle, or advanced levels with third-party industry credentials. In the entry level program, a participant could learn forklift operation—a versatile and high-demand skill set—and then decide that they wish to learn welding or robotics. Focus: HOPE also offers a pathway in IT and is currently building a pathway in logistics and transportation.

Recognizing that training alone isn’t enough for participants to complete the program, Focus: HOPE provides additional supports, such as transportation, a daily stipend, and access to Wi-Fi. Focus: HOPE works to eliminate historic barriers to employment, such as childcare and transportation, but also mitigate barriers of time, financial literacy, confidence, and knowledge. “When they do go to work, they’re coming to work whole in multiple areas of their lives,” says Chapman. “Our lens is completely different.”

Focus: HOPE also offers pre-apprenticeship programs in manufacturing, culinary arts, and construction. Their four-week truck driving program—an Earn and Learn Initiative—offers even more opportunities, as it doesn’t require a high school diploma or GED. Because Focus: HOPE is in conversation with local employment partners, they keep abreast of workforce needs and shape their curriculum and certifications in partnership with these employers. Focus: HOPE has an 80% placement rate, and—through funding from grants, employers, and donations—its programming is free to participants.

The Workforce Development and Education Program doesn’t just offer jobs, it advocates for well-paying ones. Participants who go on to work in the manufacturing sector make an average of $16.08 an hour. Those in IT average $15.74 an hour, while those from the CDL program average $45,000 a year.

In 2019, the Workforce Development and Education Program more than doubled its numbers: 617 people enrolled, 534 students completed training, and 375 students were placed in employer-driven jobs (2019 Impact Report). Focus: HOPE plans to continue this growth. As Chapman notes, transforming just one person’s trajectory can have ripple effects on the lives of so many others across the community.

Nonprofits and faith-based organizations can play a pivotal role in education and workforce development for local communities, especially by adopting a holistic approach like Focus: HOPE does. By not narrowly focusing on production, product, and outcome, argues Chapman, “We can look at the entire individual that we’re training, or placing into a job, and work to mitigate barriers that they face. This is something an employer isn’t necessarily positioned or qualified to do.” Focus: HOPE offers resources for expectant mothers, early learning, youth development, workforce development, and a senior food program. The organization’s success is driven by its multi-generational roots and interconnected programming.

Looking to the future, Chapman wants Focus: HOPE to expand its current pathways. She envisions a pre-apprenticeship, apprenticeship, and post-secondary education pipeline where participants might start with learning to operate a forklift but end with an engineering degree. “I will always advocate for people to get that post-secondary credential,” says Chapman. “Especially in industries where there’s little to no diversity. Sameness doesn’t allow growth within the industry.” Supporting the pipeline to good jobs in Detroit helps residents, the community, and ultimately the industries they help strengthen and diversify. And while a faith-based nonprofit might not be the first place you’d look to find a thriving workforce development program, Focus: HOPE provides a template for others in communities across the country.

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Workforce Development & CTE