Dear Opportunity Junction Community,
Happy New Fiscal Year! For financial reporting, organizational planning, and program outcomes, we run on a July 1 through June 30 fiscal year, and this has been a very full year. Thanks to your support, we were able to serve (and place into employment) more local residents than ever before while launching an important new healthcare career program.
BY THE NUMBERS: In FY2018-19, we had the greatest impact ever and served more local residents by a lot. We enrolled 252 motivated, low-income job seekers into job training, career counseling, and our youth program (Road Map). We placed 211 into employment, averaging $16.75 per hour, including both 161 initial placements and alumni we helped earn promotions or new positions. Altogether, if you count those served in our evening Career and Technology Center, the Do-It-Yourself Tax Assistance Program, and alumni activities, we served 1,580 local residents, a 40% increase over last year!
EXPANSION OF CAREER COUNSELING AND PLACEMENT ASSISTANCE: Most of that increase was driven by our participation in the Contra Costa Workforce Collaborative, which took over the official government-funded career centers. Through the collaborative, funded by federal Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act, we were able to bring Career Center services to our Antioch office Mondays through Thursdays (5 to 9 pm) and hire two new career counselors, one of whom works with job seekers onsite at Los Medanos College.
LAST SUMMER'S ACTING EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR: While the final details of that collaboration were being ironed out, I was resting, recharging, visiting family, and writing songs. I remain grateful to our Board of Directors for having awarded me an eight-week sabbatical in August and September of last year, and I am grateful to the team that led the organization during my absence. Brianna Robinson, then Acting Executive Director and now Vice President of Programs, was able to lead Opportunity Junction during what turned out to be a critical time, and I never checked my email once! Another important expansion project that she took over during my sabbatical and then kept in her portfolio is the new Healthcare Career Pathway program.
HEALTHCARE CAREER PATHWAY: We regularly scan the environment to gauge employer demand and uncover career tracks that can be launched with short-term job training. Healthcare careers have been on our mind for years, and the sector is predicted to continue growing for the foreseeable future. However, we don't have the facilities or space in our office to develop a hard skills training program for medical occupations.
Fortunately, we were invited this year to bring our expertise working with low-income job seekers to the Healthcare Career Pathway partnership. The John Muir Community Health Fund had set a priority to help our target job seekers launch healthcare careers, and their board was willing to fund a planning process to bring together partners who could together make it happen. Ombudsman Services of Contra Costa and Solano, which works to prevent elder abuse, thought they could address part of the issue at its root by including more person-centered care education in programs for the Certified Nursing Assistants who staff Skilled Nursing Facilities (SNFs). The SNFs themselves were facing a labor shortage and wanted to partner with a program that could provide compassionate, well-trained CNAs. And Mount Diablo Adult Education, which once ran a CNA training program and had the training facility available, was excited to bring back a CNA program that would serve job seekers with addressable barriers to employment.
Our role at Opportunity Junction is to provide the wrap-around support, professional development training, and placement assistance that would allow our job seekers to complete the program and start their healthcare careers. Professional Development Instructor Carmela Buenrostro also took a lead role in recruiting our first CNA cohort. Together with our partners, we graduated 16 of the 19 who enrolled, and all 16 have passed their licensing exam. Already (less than two months out), 81% are working in the field.
This year, we'll continue to refine the CNA training partnership while building out the career pathway for those who are ready to advance to the next step. We will also be seeking to partner with adult education in East Contra Costa to expand the program's reach.
CAREER ADVANCEMENT PROGRAM: Brianna is also the Opportunity Junction lead for a research and development project with T-Lab, Tipping Point Community's R&D group. The project is focused on researching, prototyping, and piloting programs to help job training alumni move up the career ladder: right up our alley! The two other nonprofits who are partnering with us are JVS in San Francisco (Jewish Vocational Service) and JobTrain from the Peninsula. The research phase has involved interviews with alumni and employers, as well as external research. It's just drawing to a close, and we'll be moving into the prototyping and piloting phases.
DATA AND METRICS: Tipping Point also helped fund an expansion position at Opportunity Junction this year. Data Analyst Ken Li joined the team to work both on improving our database usability for program staff and on learning from the data we collect from job seekers, applicants, and employers. We continue to work on more sophisticated ways to use state wage data to analyze long-term wage growth as part of a Workforce Accelerator Fund project. Our partners on that project are Tipping Point and JVS, again, along with the Bay Area Workforce Funders Coalition and the Employment Development Department’s Labor Market Information Division.
ROAD MAP TO COLLEGE OR TO CAREER: Data has also been key in helping us develop our program for transition-age (18 to 24 years old) youth who need extra support to succeed, many because of involvement in the foster-care system or the justice system. This past year, we focused on college retention (into the third major semester) as our key outcome. But even as we recruited for college, many of the youth who came through our door told us they couldn’t consider college until their finances were stabilized. Our team, led by Program Manager Dionne Moeller, placed 17 youth directly into entry-level employment (no college involved), and we experienced the greatest retention and employment success with short-term training at our partner Los Medanos College. Going into this next year, it’s just “Road Map.” We’ll focus on short-term training (at college, at OJ, with our adult education partners, or elsewhere) and placement into employment, depending on the needs of each youth we serve.
ADMINISTRATIVE JOB TRAINING: Our flagship Job Training and Placement Program turns out to be especially effective in helping youth launch careers. The program’s cohort-based training, support, paid work experience, and placement opportunities represents best practices for working with young adults as well as older ones. (See the newsletter article about being featured in an MDRC white paper reviewing these best practices.) As I was calculating our outcomes for those who enroll in our programs between ages 18 and 24, I found that 19 out of the 21 who had enrolled in the previous two calendar years completed the program and were placed into employment. I am exceptionally proud to be a part of making that program possible, and I hope you are, too!
DONOR, SPONSOR, VOLUNTEER, EMPLOYER, AND FOUNDATION SUPPORT: None of these programs would be possible without the generous support of our donors, sponsors, volunteers, and foundation partners, as well as our government partners. Thank you for making opportunity real for so many residents of East Contra Costa who are working hard to make life better for their families and the community. Whether you are a former participant (an alum), an employer, or somebody who heard about us from a friend of a friend, you are part of our Opportunity Junction family.
Alissa Friedman, President and CEO