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When local resident James Smith was struggling to make his rent payment, he contacted the Fremont Area United Way to see if the local non-profit could help.

“I knew they offered rent assistance and I was just figuring I would jump through the hoops and that would be it,” he said.

Although Smith did receive rent assistance — he ended up with something worth a whole lot more — a new full-time job.

Smith was one of 10 local residents who participated in Fremont Career Placement pilot program developed by a variety of local organizations and businesses to help people better their lives through providing job training and access to local gainful employment opportunities.

“It changed my life,” he said. “There are so many positives and so many benefits and I would definitely recommend it for anyone.”

The pilot program was born out of a Strategic Doing Workforce Forum held by the Greater Fremont Development Council (GFDC) last March.

“The Strategic Doing process is about picking an opportunity to work on together, always moving forward, always making strides toward accomplishing the goal,” GFDC Existing Business Director Barb Pierce said.

The goal in this case was to create and implement a local career placement program through collaboration between the GFDC, United Way, Metropolitan Community College (MCC), Fremont Area Community Foundation (FACF), and Fremont Area Chamber of Commerce.

“The Career Placement Pilot was a goal we all agreed could benefit our community – a win-win for both businesses and jobseekers,” Pierce said. “GFDC has often heard from local businesses that they have felt the absence of a Workforce Development Office since the Nebraska Department of Labor withdrew from our community several years ago. Now, this Career Placement Pilot is making in-person connections of work-ready jobseekers to our employers.”

What the group came up with was a weeklong program based off of a similar program already implemented by MCC in Omaha.

“This program was modeled after MCC’s Omaha program in which 70 to 75 percent of the participants are still employed six months later,” Tammy Green of MCC’s Workforce Innovations Division said.

The pilot program included 10 local jobseekers, including Smith, who were referred to the program from several community partners including LifeHouse, Salvation Army, DHHS, Uniquely Yours, Project Everlast and GFDC.

To be eligible for the weeklong pilot program, applicants had to be work-ready — with participants meeting with MCC Career Skills Coach Angela Baker to determine if they were a good fit for the program.

“The program is designed to skill-up jobseekers from all walks of life and the future of the program will include providing training to past participants that is tailored to meet specific needs of participating companies and allows for them to move into higher wage and skill levels within the company,” Pierce said.

The weeklong program held at the United Way offices was led by Baker where participants completed certification training certificates as well as opportunities to meet face to face with participating local businesses.

Local businesses that participated in the pilot program included Valmont Industries, Structural Component Systems, Nye Senior Services, First State Bank & Trust Company, Merritt Trailers, Rosenbauer Aerials.

“One great benefit for me were the nationally recognized certifications, which I knew would be helpful to add to my resume,” said James Smith. “Also just having that opportunity to meet with people who actually make hiring decisions at those companies was huge for me.”

The week started out with six companies presenting their open positions and company culture to the group of 10 participants; participants had to complete courses in work ethics, customer service, and the National Career Readiness Certificate.

They also spent time developing their resumes, learning to complete applications, cover letters, interview skills and how to give appropriate follow up after an interview. The final day was reserved for finalizing job search plans, discussing next steps and arranging potential interviews.

When the pilot was completed, four out of 10 participants found positions making $15 an hour or higher. Two other participants are interviewing with participating companies and one other is interviewing with a company that did not participate.

“I saw performance and commitment from the participants that made it easy for me to advocate for them,” Baker said. “And I cannot say enough about how great the business partners have been to work with in Fremont.”

Smith landed himself a job at Structural Components — which he started at on Monday.

“Our community should be grateful for Metropolitan Community College and their commitment to providing the Career Skills Coach and Certification trainings,” United Way Executive Director Shawn Shanahan said. “Their expertise with this proven model is vital to the pilot’s success.”

While the pilot program was certainly successful, it is just the beginning as the group is already putting together another class being planned for this month.

“The program already has two participants signed up for the December class and several more are in the pipeline,” Pierce said.

Companies with open positions that would like to partner in the December program are encouraged to contact Fremont Area United Way or Greater Fremont Development Council. Jobseekers can also contact one of these two organizations to receive an application for the program.

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News Editor

Tammy Real-McKeighan is news editor of the Fremont Tribune. She covers news, features, religion stories and writes the weekly faith-based, Spiritual Spinach column.

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