Ever since President Lyndon Johnson's "Great Society" programs were put into effect in the 1960s, job training has been associated with government programs. But the Education and Training Connection (ETC), an adult education center in Midland, Michigan, is showing that the private-sector is more than up to the task of helping people obtain the skills they need to succeed in the modern workforce.
ETC was formerly known as Adult and Community Education (ACE), and was funded through the nearby Bullock Creek public school district. It's purpose, which has not changed, was to provide education and training aimed at helping people obtain jobs and enhance their job skills and qualifications. In July, 1996, however, ACE's structure changed dramatically when Lyn Knapp, then adult education director, converted the government agency into a private, nonprofit organization with whom government and private business now contract for educational services. Knapp is now chief executive officer of the renamed Education and Training Connection and she has made the new nonprofit institute a private-sector success story.
From Public to Nonprofit
ACE's conversion began with rumors of an impending cut in state funding for adult education. Instead of rushing to the defense of her program with threats of the dire consequences that would follow the demise of her program, Knapp saw an opportunity.
Knapp decided to maintain adult education and training services in Midland by converting to private, nonprofit status. By privatizing, she would have the freedom to move into more fruitful areas and get out of less useful ones; freedoms unheard of in the public sector. Independent of direct state aid and control, the organization would have the flexibility necessary not only to keep a valued program alive, but to allow it to thrive and expand.
"I knew there was a community need, and the excellent staff was more than capable of continuing to serve the community," she says.
Knapp reorganized ETC with a board of directors composed of community leaders with educational, industrial, and community-oriented backgrounds. She backed up the board by hiring and maintaining a qualified staff. According to Knapp, the diverse backgrounds of ETC's board and staff have enabled the institution to "connect with each segment of our customer needs." Education and Training Connection's sensitivity to pleasing its customers has helped the institution thrive as a private organization, she says.
Has the move paid off? Yes, and in dramatic fashion. The institution has not only reduced its reliance on government funding by 90%, it has done so while doubling the number of instructional programs and increasing the size of its staff from 73 to 103. In addition, ETC now maintains a contingent of 45 to 50 "adjunct" or not-on-site instructors. The institution now serves 400 students.
Educating the Public
There are ETC education programs for students of all ages, including children. It maintains a daycare facility that is licensed to care for 26 children. Lessons are oriented by age group and may include instruction as varied as improving motor skills to identifying coloreffectively preparing children for pre-school and kindergarten. The ETC is currently researching the use of Internet and video technology within the daycare system to allow parents to keep an eye on their children from work or home.
Educational programs advance through grade school and high school student activities and include after-school and volunteer programs. Specific programs are available for 16 to 19-year-olds through Windover High School, a charter school managed by ETC. The institution also runs its own program, open to all local school districts, that provides an "alternative educational setting" for young people who aren't fitting successfully into the standard K-12 public school model. The ETC's "alternative schooling" provided educational services to 205 high school-level students during the 1997-1998 school year.
For adults 19 and older, the ETC offers classes to help people obtain jobs, prepare for exams such as the General Educational Development (GED) test, or learn a skilled trade.
One exciting trade the ETC teaches is how to become a computer service technician. Students learn how to fix and reprogram computers while preparing to take the A+ Certification test, a nationally recognized exam that provides credentials for qualified computer-repair technicians. The computers used for training are charitable gifts donated by local businesses. The students refurbish and reprogram the computers and then give them to families with school-aged children in need of a computer. Local school principals, faculty, and staff nominate the families to receive computers.
In addition to helping members of the community enter the most thriving area of our nation's economy, the ETC's computer service technician program has provided 20 people and families in the Midland area with computers, and businesses have gained valuable tax deductions through their charitable gifts. The ETC expects the number of partic- ipants in this program to jump dramatically in the future.
Training for Workers
According to Knapp, the ETC proactively targets the skills businesses need in workers, and actually "custom-design[s] education programs to meet the business's individual needs." Business-oriented ETC classes include everything from computer aided design to supervisory skills and telephone systems management. In just one year, from June 1997 to June 1998, ETC trained nearly 800 company employees in various skills.
Consider a few examples.
Dow Corning Medical Materials Plant in Hemlock, Michigan, contracted with ETC to train 171 employees in chemical operations.
F. P. Horak Company, a printer in Bay City, Michigan, hired ETC to help 129 of its workers obtain additional computer skills.
he Thomson Bay Company, of Bay City, and the Thomson Ball Screw Company of Saginaw (both tool and die shops) contracted with ETC to train employees in various programs from computer applications to supervisory training.Private Success
These and other job providers regularly contract with ETC for specialized training, providing ETC with revenue that it can then use to enhance its training programs. This cross-subsidization is one of the reasons ETC can provide education and training to some of the area's neediest peopleall while weaning itself from government funding. Knapp says this is how can help raise the community standard of living without becoming tangled in all the strings that often come with government involvement.
The Education and Training Connection still receives government subsidies through the state's Family Independence Agency, but Knapp and the ETC board are looking for alternative, private funding mechanisms to remove ETC entirely from any direct government aid.
The ETC is also looking for private funding to operate its "County Connection," a seven-bus transportation service it provides under contract with Midland County. Now in its third year, County Connection is aimed at helping newly employed individuals who don't have their own transportation get to their new jobs and back each day. ETC is currently investigating the creation of a local transportation service that would also be 100% privately funded.
The Education and Training Connection is a good example of how the private-sector can provide students and workers with the kind of hands-on education and job training once thought of as solely the province of government. Under Lyn Knapp's leadership, ETC continues to growto the benefit of its customers and its community.