No experience necessary: A new ICC program helps ready participants for the workplace

By Adam Armour/The Itawamba County Times

Job seekers are constantly haunted by an age-old paradox: It’s hard to find a job without experience, but it’s nearly impossible to get experience without a job. A new ICC program may have a solution of sorts.

The Counseling to Career — or C2C — program is a five-week course aimed at providing its participants with the skills they need to acquire and keep a job. After that, its administrators help program graduates find work.

“It’s basically a work program,” said Ruth McKinney, WIA Case Manager for ICC, adding the goal of the program is to, essentially, train participants to be part of the workforce.

“I’m going to pay your salary while you get the work experience that you need,” she said.

The program, which is funded through a grant from the Mississippi Partnership, was first held at ICC’s Belden campus and has since expanded to WIN Job Centers in several counties. This year marks the first in which the course will be held at the main ICC campus in Fulton.

The program orientation is set for Jan. 18. There are still some open spots — the class can hold up to 20 participants — but they’re expected to go quickly.

Here’s how it works: Individuals who are up to 21 years old and are out of school looking for work can try to qualify for the program. People who receive federal assistance such as disability will automatically qualify, as will individuals in households that fall below the poverty level. Other considerations, such as whether or not the applicant is a parent, are also taken into consideration.

Those who qualify enter into a five-week program that introduces them to a variety of work-related soft skills: how to dress, how to act, how to work with other people and how to react in difficult situations, for example.

“The program is geared toward the most needy,” McKinney said. “We’re trying to give them the opportunities they need.”

Much like a regular job, participants are expected to attend the course five days a week, from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. and dress in work-appropriate attire.

“That gets them used to being at a certain place at a certain time every day,” McKinney said. For people who have either been out of work for an extended period of time or have never had a job, this can be a difficult first lesson.

“We try to put that responsibility back on them,” she said. “We’re trying to change their mindsets.”

Further in, participants will be introduced to more defined skills, such as resume writing and training in a variety of useful computer programs. They’ll also work with numerous different instructors, many of whom are either potential employers or references, to help determine the type of work that’s the best fit.

“We try to help them see [what jobs] that may not be right for them,” McKinney said.

Those who pass the five-week program will get a chance to be placed in a local workplace for up to 240 hours of paid work at one of several area businesses. Although not typical, if the participants click with their employers, they may even be offered a job.

According to McKinney, the program is a good way for both businesses and potential employees to test the water. Since the participants are being paid by program administrators, there’s no financial risk on the businesses’ part. But temporary or not, it’s still a job, and participants will be able to see what would be expected of them.

“It’s like a six-week long interview,” McKinney said.

Sometimes, this relationship really works out. For example, one employee of The Meadows nursing home in Fulton was first placed there as part of the program. She loved it so much, she enrolled in ICC’s Certified Nursing program and was offered a permanent job.

The program was that foot-in-the-door she needed. McKinney said she considers that a big success. For those who are willing to meet expectations, it’s a big leg up…or, a foot in.

“They’ve got to be willing to set some goals and willing to work,” she said, adding that even those participants who aren’t offered jobs are still receiving invaluable job experience and references.

“All we guarantee them is an opportunity,” McKinney said.
For those who want it, that’s likely all they’ve needed.

For more information on the ICC C2C program, contact McKinney at 662-407-1205.

adam.armour@journalinc.com