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What Works in the Mid South: Working Together Jackson

October 21st, 2016

Working Together Jackson-02

What Works in the Mid South aims to spotlight people, programs, and organizations in Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, and West Tennessee that serve as catalysts for positive, tangible community change. This month, we focus on a program supporting adult education being implemented by Working Together Jackson (WTJ).

Working Together Jackson-03WTJ is a nonpartisan coalition of institutions and people who work across racial, religious, and neighborhood lines to build relationships, equip local leaders, and achieve change in Jackson, Mississippi. The group launched an innovative program to help adults go back to school to get the training they need to secure quality jobs.

We spoke to Perry C. Perkins, Jr. who serves as the lead organizer for the WTJ.

  1. Describe a program by Working Together Jackson that makes a difference in the community you serve.

One of the programs we have developed is called Jackson 500.  Jackson 500 is a partnership between Working Together Jackson (WTJ), the City of Jackson and Hinds Community College. Jackson 500 is a labor market intermediary designed to meet the needs of local employers to fill living wage jobs with a career path and that provides recruitment, training, and support to local residents who are currently unemployed or underemployed.

  1. What were some of the needs your organization identified that led you to this work? Be as specific as possible.

We identified several needs that led to the formation of Jackson 500.

  • Local employers needed entry-level skilled employees to fill positions that pay a living wage, beginning at $13 an hour with benefits.
  • Local residents that are unemployed and underemployed need to find living wage employment with a career path and benefits.
  • People with criminal records needed to find employers willing to hire them.
  • Community members needed to receive GED certification while gaining the hard skills necessary for living wage employment.

Hinds Community College designed a program to help local residents receive both GED and hard skills certifications simultaneously but needed help recruiting and retaining potential students. Potential students also needed financial aid to avoid student debt and assistance with everyday challenges that would prevent them from successfully completing the training such as transportation, housing, remediation services, and connection to part-time work while in training.

  1. What are some of the outcomes of the program you described? 

There are currently 150 Students participating in Jackson 500. Over the last year, we have a 93% retention rate and 10 graduates have been placed in living wage jobs averaging $13 an hour. Students in the program have received full tuition assistance through a Department of Labor grant.

Of the 150 students in the program, 80% have some kind of criminal record. These students receive training for jobs in manufacturing, construction, internet technology, medical billing, and culinary arts. Hinds Community College Raymond and Utica campuses provide housing for 15 homeless students and WTJ provides daily transportation to the Raymond campus for students not housed at the school.

The students who did not successfully qualify for full scholarships have received additional educational training and many of them have been able to receive scholarships. Many students have also been able to secure part-time employment while in training. We are excited to share that WTJ received a two-year grant of $300,000 from the W.K. Kellogg foundation to develop our organization as a Systemic Labor Market Intermediary for the Jackson area.

  1. What are some of the challenges your organization continues to face? 

Despite the success, we have seen with Jackson 500. We continue to face challenges including moving this project from the ad-hoc collaboration that it now is to systemic labor market intermediary, creating a long-term sustainable financial base for Jackson 500, developing the long-term political will to sustain this effort, and defining a clear pathway from training to employment.

  1. Please share a success story from this program. 

Mr. Terrance Petry is in his mid-30’s, was homeless, and has struggled with unemployment and underemployment. Mr. Petry was recruited to Jackson 500 from Stewpot Community Services, the city’s local homeless assistance program. Through our program, Mr. Petry is working on certifications in Industrial Maintenance and has been able to maintain excellent grades while in the program. He also completed his GED and will be eligible for employment is his field in eight weeks. He lives in the dorm at Hinds Community College’s Raymond Campus and is employed by Hinds while in training.

Learn more about Working Together Jackson by visiting them on Facebook. Also, for additional information about National Adult Education week or how you can get involved, visit the National Coalition for Literacy.

If you want to nominate a person, organization, or program that serves Mid South communities, email and use What Works in the Mid South in the subject line.

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