Aug. 14, 2017 GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — A Grand Rapids Community College program that combines English as a Second Language coursework with technical skills training recently received an award from a state organization.
The Michigan Association of Continuing Education and Training gave its 2017 Special Project Award to GRCC's ESL/CNC Precision Machining program. GRCC teamed up with the Hispanic Center of West Michigan and the Literacy Center of West Michigan to develop the program, which launched in spring 2016.
Julie Parks, GRCC's executive director of Workforce Training, said the course directly addresses two concerns: area employers' need for skilled workers and high unemployment rates for people with only basic proficiency in English.
"In West Michigan, although the unemployment rate is about 3 percent, there are many neighborhoods in our community that have higher unemployment rates or have significant numbers of individuals who are in minimum- or low-wage jobs," she said.
"We knew that if we could find a way to get individuals from these neighborhoods into GRCC skilled trades programs, we could make a difference."
Roberto Torres, the Hispanic Center's executive director, organized a community meeting to discuss training possibilities. Those attending were interested in CNC precision machining skills. Chad Patton, the Literacy Center of West Michigan’s customized workplace English manager, brought expertise in occupational English skill integration to work with the GRCC team, and the W.K. Kellogg Foundation provided funding.
Of the 15 people who entered the program in spring 2016, 14 completed it and all received either new jobs or jobs with higher wages.
“Our instructional team from the college and the Literacy Center worked closely with our career coach/navigators and job developers,” said John VanElst, GRCC Pathways to Success program manager. “We learned when to offer the training and what skill sets to focus on. This program helps individuals accelerate learning English while, at the same time, gaining valuable workplace skills.
The ESL/CNC Machining program continues and two other programs have been added: ESL/Certified Nursing Assistant and ESL/Construction.
Luis Hernandez admits he was nervous about signing up for the ESL/CNC Machining program.
“I thought to myself: ‘What have I gotten into?’” he said. “But I really liked the program. The class was nice and small. We all worked easily together, and the instructor was so helpful and supportive.”
“This program changed my life. It opened doors for me and now I am a machine apprentice. I feel like now I have a career, not just a job.”
Parks says the program wouldn’t have been possible without community collaboration: “This was a great opportunity for us to work with some outstanding community partners to bring all the pieces together and, with the support of the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, we were able to accomplish it!”
Grand Rapids Community College has been offering educational opportunities in West Michigan for more than 100 years. Established in 1914, the college offers degree courses, certification and training programs, and workshops and personal enrichment classes. Offerings are held on GRCC’s downtown Grand Rapids campus, and at several locations throughout Kent and Ottawa counties, as well as through distance learning.