Truman Heartland aims to build job skills program

By Mike Genet
The Examiner

The Truman Heartland Community Foundation and Community Services League aim to expand their job skills training initiative this year, with more available fields for training and more slots for unemployed and underemployed individuals seeking better jobs.

The program, Job Skills for New Careers, includes partnerships with the Community Services League, the Mid-Continent Public Library, the Herndon Career Center in Raytown and the University of Central Missouri’s branch campus in Lee's Summit.

Truman Heartland reached its goal of $120,000 in contributions last year to support the program and has a goal of $140,000 this year, president/CEO Phil Hanson said Monday while speaking to the Independence City Council.

“We know many of our folks have that interest,” he said of donors supporting job training programs.

Debby Laufer, vice president of community services for CSL, said the program had 63 people graduate with certifications for new jobs in 2020 – 36 certified nursing assistants and 27 welders. The Truman Heartland initiative expands on the Bridges to Career Opportunities program CSL has done for a few years, using federal grants, including Community Development Block Grant money from the city, for certified nursing assistant and welder training. CSL also offers financial coaching, income support and employment counseling with its Bridges program.

“We were able, even with COVID causing a disruption for several months, we did have a graduation rate of 78 percent,” Laufer told the council.

This year, she said, they’re adding or attempting to add training programs in medical coding and billing, phlebotomy (drawing blood), sustainable material handling and construction, with a goal of 125 participants. 

“We’re striving for 125, but I suspect we will be going over that,” Laufer said, as citizen demand has been high.

Knowing that people often have other hurdles besides money that can discourage them from job training, such as child care or transportation, Hanson said it’s important to have such support elements in their program. Also, keeping the program in high-demand careers is crucial.

“We want to make sure we have a system that listens to the needs of local employers,” he said. “We want to make sure there’s a job waiting, that’s a real important motivating factor.”

Hanson noted that the nonprofit KC Scholars has stepped in as a funding partner for a few training classes.

“You’re looking at, with the cost of training and other services so they can hit the pause button of life, you’re looking at about $6,000, per student,” Hanson said. “When you look at it, in terms of investment, what it’s going to look like for the family, for the local economy, they’re making a better living, and paying more taxes in the community.”

The bottom line, Mayor Eileen Weir said, is that such programs, while helpful to the community, ultimately aren’t free. The city can offer some connections to employers and promote the program, she said, and could continue to provide CDBG funds toward training.

“Obviously it would benefit our community to have more people in good-paying jobs and on career pathways,” Weir said. “We will certainly think about which ways we continue to support it.”

Weir openly wondered if a future program in public safety or law enforcement might be possible. The most difficult position to fill in the city, she said, is police officer, and while Independence is not unique in that issue, the use tax has afforded the city a chance to hire more. 

“We have money coming in to pay police officers, but we are struggling to find qualified people to fill those positions and adequately recruit,” the mayor said.