As featured in SkillUp Washington’s latest newsletter:
Hannelore Makhani, Re-engagement System Manager at King County Employment and Education Resources (KCEER), is working to make sure that all young people have the opportunities they need to prepare for and get hired for great jobs.
As part of King County’s Community and Human Services, KCEER plays a leadership role in the county’s WorkSource system, coordinating employment services for all with many dedicated community partners, along with directly serving adults and young people seeking success in school and work.
This month we sat down with Hanne to learn more about the impact of KCEER initiatives.
1. Can you tell our readers about the work of KCEER, and the work you do to provide economic opportunity in King County?
KCEER, or King County Employment and Education Resources, is part of the Department of Community and Human Services, and we are the County’s workforce development arm.
We have two areas of focus, one of which is on adults who have barriers to employment, like veterans or those exiting homelessness, who might need re-training or access to counseling.
The other area, part of the program I work in, is a focus on young people aged 16-24. We really hone in on education as well as employment needs, with this group. These young people might need help with obtaining their GED or a high school diploma, and then making the transition to post-secondary school or work.
In partnership with school districts and our local community colleges, we operate re-engagement centers, or second-chance schools: a one-stop place for students to get the support they need with education and employment. We also have other partnering organizations on site at the centers who provide support with things like behavioral health and career navigation (including access to jobs and internships).
I get to work at our YouthSource center in Tukwila, and we have two other re-engagement centers, one based up north at Shoreline Community College, and one at Seattle Vocational Institute, which we support Seattle Central College with.
It’s important to note that KCEER is a provider of services to these young people, but we are also an agency that gives out funding to support other partners and providers in this re-engagement system, including community colleges, high schools, nonprofits and behavioral health organizations. I help coordinate and support resources for the whole system and also oversee two programs that service the system, Reconnect to Opportunity (ReOpp) and Career LaunchPad.
Our team has been building long-term relationships with other service organizations for a long time, including K-12 schools, truancy and detention organizations and others. These wide-ranging partnerships – for services, funding or training and employment – have been key to the success of this work we’re all doing together.
2. What kinds of support and engagement do you provide to opportunity youth? Why is a focus on disconnected youth part of your work?
Young people who come to us are looking for a way forward. They don’t know what the path is, a lot of times, to finish school or do something more with their lives.
Many of them unfortunately may have had traumatic experiences in the education system before they reach us, so we’re not only trying to get them reconnected to opportunity – we’re also rebuilding their confidence, and showing them the different options that are available. Just as one example, a young person may not know that if you are under 21 and can get a GED, you can go to college for free until you turn 21.
When they first come to us, it’s as important to encourage and support them as it is to provide information. A young person might get referred to one of our re-engagement centers by hearing about it from a friend, or another provider, or through ReOpp.
ReOpp helps young people identify all the options available to them and assists them as they navigate re-enrollment. Once they get started, the young people have access to case managers at all re-engagement centers who provide one-on-one support. Not only are they helping them navigate the next steps in their education or their work life, they’re also helping them troubleshoot barriers they might have to employment.
For example, a young person might be going to school and working at the same time to support themselves and their family. Suddenly their car breaks down, and they can’t get to work. We help them get a voucher to get their car fixed, or to get gas. Or they’re in a pre-apprenticeship program and need supplies, tools, uniforms, interview clothes. Or they’re a parent and can’t afford childcare. We can help with all these needs.
Our support services really help level the playing field for them as they seek opportunity. But at the same time, our case managers are working with them to teach valuable problem-solving skills. We want to help them cope after we’re gone, in the future, and also start thinking about planning ahead, saving, having a Plan B and Plan C when things go awry. Our own resources support all of this work, and we also have additional support from sources like the WIOA funding and BFET programs.
I also want to talk about Career Launchpad, a program that really supports both young workers and their employers.
We hire career navigators to work with young people who are entering the workforce (some for the first time). Often our navigators might be sent to work within organizations who don’t usually have this kind of hands-on career counselling capacity – for example, one of our navigators works with iGRAD in Kent, and has become part of the team there.
Often we hear from providers like iGRAD, and the people they serve, that their students have pressing financial needs. They have to support families. They may have had to work, which caused them to leave school. They’re facing a lot of barriers to retaining employment in a job.
Our navigators help them get ready for a job, and also brokers services with the community employers. They advocate for that young person for an open position, work as a case manager once a young person gets hired, and sometimes work with employers to try and retain that young worker, through addressing the barriers or training needs they may have.
Recently, the Career Launchpad program has started connecting up with some of the employers engaged in the Generation Work initiative, that we partner with SkillUp on. We’ve had a recent focus here on young women of color, getting them interested in in-demand careers in nontraditional fields. We ask them “Have you considered a career in the maritime industry?” or “Are you good at math?” “Consider one of these high wage fields as you think about training and future jobs.”
3. Can you tell us more about Reconnect to Opportunity and the #oyimworthit campaign?
Reconnect to Opportunity (ReOpp) is the outreach function for the King County re-engagement system. It’s meant to find young people who are disconnected from education or employment and inform them of all their options to get back on track. ReOpp also supports youth through enrolling in a program or connecting to an employer, to ensure that activities go smoothly and that they are strongly connected to different supports. Our audience is young people, but young people’s families and service providers often engage with this effort too.
We employ young adults as Peer Connectors, and assign them to help us run ReOpp, to be the face of the outreach effort. They are so valuable to us because they have often had similar experiences in their lives, and/or have been through the very programs we are suggesting as options for youth looking to reconnect. Now, they are helping young people follow the path towards a better future. The Peer Connectors are key partners in developing our social media and website content. They also produce a podcast and a blog, and generally help get the word out.
Facebook and our Reconnect to Opportunity website have been great channels for sharing how our programs can help young people. Recently we’ve started using Instagram in a slightly different way: to help change the public narrative about young people who have had challenges in education and employment. Helping them feel more empowered and successful, and helping the community see them that way too.
#oyimworthit is a platform for them to share their success stories – sometimes via the programs they attend, and sometimes on their own.
4. SkillUp and KCEER have been great partners together in Generation Work. Can you tell us more about KCEER’s role and activities in the GenWork initiative?
We are one of the key partners in Generation Work, supported by the Annie E. Casey Foundation, and we’ve been meeting with SkillUp to help plan and inform this initiative together. Through Generation Work, SkillUp is able to give us funding to support our system-building efforts, specifically Reconnect to Opportunity.
Through Generation Work, SkillUp has really helped us become more aware of in-demand career fields and training opportunities for young people. For example, they have connected us to different manufacturing, retail, and construction trades partners. Our background is in social and human services and human services, so partnering with some of these employers and training providers is newer to us. We are really excited about our recent connections with partners like ANEW and AJAC, who are offering pathways to well-paid and rewarding careers for young people.
Generation Work has also really supported the Reconnect to Opportunity outreach campaign in ways big and small, from helping us produce our podcasts to providing small incentive pools for Peer Connectors to be able to use when meeting with opportunity youth.
I appreciate that SkillUp is savvy and realizes that people in our community are intermediaries in their own right, and we already facilitate connections and resources around education and employment.
For example, we already convene providers, about 60-70 people every month who come together to talk about collaboration. Instead of creating another table for us all to sit around, SkillUp is really flexible in trying to support and integrate their work into the work we already do.