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#OTGYpsi: WCC offers 300 people free career training for high-demand jobs

WCC Vice President Brandon Tucker.
Doug Coombe
Concentrate Media
WCC Vice President Brandon Tucker.


Concentrate Ann Arbor

Sarah Rigg's Feature Article: New WCC initiative will train 300 Ypsi high schoolers and adults for high-demand careers

Washtenaw Community College

Advance Ypsi


Cathy Shafran: You are listening to 89.1 WEMU. I'm Cathy Shafran, and this is On the Ground Ypsi. It's a program intended to bring you the stories of the Ypsilanti community, and we bring you On the Ground Ypsi in partnership with the reporting team at Concentrate Media. Today, our focus is on an initiative in the Ypsilanti area that will provide free training for hundreds of people for careers in high demand jobs. Today, I'm joined by Concentrate Media reporter Rylee Barnsdale, whose online news site is reporting this week on this new initiative at Washtenaw Community College called Advance Ypsi. Rylee, thanks so much for being here.

Rylee Barnsdale: Thanks, Cathy.

Cathy Shafran: What more can you tell me about the article in Concentrate Media that was written by your colleague, Sarah Rigg?

Rylee Barnsdale: So, Sarah went into some really good detail on what the Advance Ypsi program at Washtenaw Community College is. And it is intended to not only instruct but also give some real world experience to 300 students, 100 of them being high school students from the Ypsilanti Community School. The goal is to give them this training and this education for these high demand jobs. So, things like automotive and manufacturing jobs and some of those jobs can have salaries up to $40,000 a year. So, the program is really intended to not only bring more students to WCC for a quality education, but also to give them some really good, on-the-ground experience in those fields that can be very lucrative.

Cathy Shafran: And this is a free program for these 300 new students?

Rylee Barnsdale: Close to free, depending on where they're coming from. So, these adult students are going to have the opportunity to pay very little or nothing out-of-pocket.

Cathy Shafran: You know why they're pursuing this at this point?

Rylee Barnsdale: So, the most recent U.S. Census actually showed that, in Ypsilanti, 50% of households live below the poverty level, and the post-secondary educational rate is 20%. So, with this program, WCC is definitely aiming to get more folks into a secondary education, you know, sort of program and getting either certifications or degrees. So, when you have that certification or that degree for that type of field that has those higher paying jobs, that can definitely bring some of those households up.

Cathy Shafran: Through bootstraps, as they say.

Rylee Barnsdale: Yes.

Cathy Shafran: Well, in the Concentrate Media article this week, I know that Sarah Rigg did talk extensively with WCC workforce vice president Brandon Tucker, and he's joining us now by phone. Thank you, Mr. Tucker, for being with us.

Brandon Tucker: Thank you so much for having me today.

Cathy Shafran: I see that, in the article, that you describe this as an historic investment in Ypsilanti. Is this a more historic program than others that you've been involved with?

Brandon Tucker: Well, you know, the college has been invested in eastern Washtenaw County--in specific, Ypsilanti--for nearly three decades. We have programming that happens every day at our Parkridge Community Center for middle school, high school age students, as well as our Harriet Street Center working with adults. And we thought as we got a part of the Detroit Drives Degrees Community College Collaborative, affectionately known as the D3C3, it was befitting for us to try to amplify the work we exist and we are doing, but provide new pathways that just historically were not able to do. And, as you've heard, 50% or more of that side of the county are living in poverty. And when you start looking at educational attainment around that number or closer to 60%, you don't have anything besides the high school diploma that compares to Ann Arbor that has a 71 to 72% bachelor's degree or higher educational attainment. And we know access to education needs access to not just a living wage, but a good wage. So, we decided to come up with the concept, which we're calling Advance Ypsi, which accepts 100 high school students and hopefully their parents, 200 adults or guardians or family members or just regular people from Ypsilanti that could give them access at no cost, leveraging existing state dollars to Project Reconnect, WIOA, federal dollars to Michigan Works, and dual enrollment funding through Ypsilanti Community Schools, the district, where they get go literally debt-free through a short-term certificate program in an emerging field: automotive, manufacturing, cybersecurity. And at the end of that short-term certificate program, which is a year or less, they have access and are prepared to be not just ready but positioned for jobs that are high wage, high demand at a minimum of $40,000 a year or more. When we do this right, because we believe that we're putting all our eggs in the basket of advancing that side of Ypsilanti, that will result in a minimum of $12 million of earned income that does not exist today in that community. That becomes a pathway to homeownership. That becomes a pathway to making even more money because you have a credential and you're getting valuable experience. But it also eradicates poverty, it increases educational attainment, and it systematically changes the community. And being the community's college, that's what Washtenaw County College wants to do.

Cathy Shafran: I understand in the article it mentions some special funding coming for this particular program, Advance Ypsi: some $2 million from the Ralph C. Wilson Jr. Foundation and other community partners. As you mentioned, Michigan Works, Ypsilanti Schools, I believe the Detroit Regional Chamber, and funding from the Ballmer Group. Is this then taking all those dollars together to put into the special program?

Brandon Tucker: It is. It is. And the $2 million is allowing us to really build infrastructures that support student success. So, for example, part of that funding allocates a full-time dedicated advisor at the high school that would be a YCS employee that does nothing else but make sure the students enrolled in this program are successful. But then also, we've already hired a dedicated career and life success coordinator that each person in this program will be assigned to to ensure that if barriers pop up, which they do. It's life, right? That person is there to guide them through eradicating every barrier to ensure that success happens. And, additionally, it provides resources to do retraining, to educate faculty and teachers around these emerging trends and these emerging technologies that may not be aware of them today. But the goal is that we build a system that far exceeds the short-term funding that's here for the next three years, but that becomes the fabric of the community for years to come.

Cathy Shafran: And can you help me understand the logistics of the program? How do people become aware of it? How could they register for it? And how long would they be in such a program to reach the point that they have enough education to start that career starting at $40,000 a year? How does it all work?

Brandon Tucker: Absolutely. It does. So, we're going to have some information sessions. We're actually working on scheduling those right now. Once we do, we're going to do a release out to the community. We believe those are going to be at the end of June, at the top of July. We already have been working with the school district. So, there are students who are already starting to identify this pathway for their junior and senior year that's coming up. For the adults and just for the community at largem within the next 3 to 4 weeks, you're going to have the information session. That will be a start for consistent information sessions that we have in the community to talk about how to get it, how to get signed up, and how to get registered. Once they enter the program, they'll have a dedicated, basically program pathway. So, we know some programs are going to take, like, eight months. Some other programs are going to take a full year. And if they're in high school, they may be taking the programs their junior and senior year. That's going to be two years. And depending on which program they get it to will determine the amount of time it's going to take to complete. And, you know, this information that is available on our website, WCCnet.edu/advanceypsi, and that gives details about the program. But then also, we encourage everybody to fill out the information form. That allows for us to be able to reach out, set up a time to talk, and to be able to get people aware and hopefully registered. But they can do that right at our website today in advance of the information session. And we've had a few dozen people, just from our press release, already reach out and get more information.

Cathy Shafran: So, for adults who are interested, go to the websites that you just mentioned. Is that correct? Or are there other ways that they can find information?

Brandon Tucker: Go to the website. And then, once we identify the dates of information session, we're going to let everybody in the community know to come out. And we'll have multiple sessions in multiple locations and multiple times to, you know, basically provide the easiest access for individuals who are interested.

Cathy Shafran: Okay. And we will have a link to your website on our website, WEMU.org. Before we leave today, I just wanted to ask, this is a program for three years. What do you see as far as it continuing beyond that?

Brandon Tucker: We have got a commitment from Ralph Wilson that when we do this right, there's more money down the road. But what we also see is, albeit that funding, we're going to create this as a new pathway that does not expire at the end of the three years but is something that we're able to do for adults and for young people for years to come.

Cathy Shafran: And if it turns into a success, what do you see as the impact in the Ypsilanti community?

Brandon Tucker: For one, it's the earned wages--millions of dollars that doesn't exist today, which allow for people to move out of poverty, but also allow for home ownership and just the economic impact to that side of the county that does not exist today. But then also, we begin to change the community. We know a more educated community, a more thriving community, attracts more people in the community and, hopefully, businesses to say, "I want to relocate to Ypsi." Because they've got people from K-12 all the way through adulthood that are preparing for the jobs of not just tomorrow today. And that's a great place to locate.

Cathy Shafran: WCC Workforce Vice President Brandon Tucker and Concentrate Media reporter Rylee Barnsdale. I want to thank you so much for joining us on this important discussion about training and job opportunities for hundreds in Ypsilanti through the Advance Ypsi program. Thanks for being here.

Rylee Barnsdale: Thanks, Cathy.

Brandon Tucker: Thank you for having me.

Cathy Shafran: This is On the Ground Ypsi. I'm Cathy Shafran. And this is 89.1 WEMU-FM, Ypsilanti. Public Radio from Eastern Michigan University. And online at WEMU.org.

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Cathy Shafran was WEMU's afternoon news anchor and local host during WEMU's broadcast of NPR's All Things Considered.
Concentrate Media's Rylee Barnsdale is a Michigan native and longtime Washtenaw County resident. She wants to use her journalistic experience from her time at Eastern Michigan University writing for the Eastern Echo to tell the stories of Washtenaw County residents that need to be heard.
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