AMT Program Helps Break Down Barriers to Success

After 20 years at a Chicago-area bakery production plant, Ed Curra was laid off. The plant eventually closed, and he and his wife depended on his part-time earnings and savings to get by. Curra wasn’t ready to retire and tried to position himself for jobs by studying for and receiving an electromechanical maintenance certification. But it wasn’t enough. “Most of the jobs I’d been applying for, the companies said they wanted a journeyman,” he says.

Through a connection at the Veterans Administration, Curra learned about the Advanced Manufacturing Training (AMT) program at Bethel New Life (Chicago, Ill.), a recent Wheat Ridge Ministries grantee. AMT is a comprehensive job training program that helps low-income individuals on Chicago’s West Side improve their ability to compete for living-wage jobs and careers. Curra was accepted into the program and completed the requirements in July 2017.

Initiated in 2013, the AMT program is intense: participants meet for 22 weeks, three days a week for four hours each day. At completion, participants earn three Level 1 computer numerical control certifications.

For Ed, the process was worth it and the program was the perfect fit. “It’s really hands on: there’s attention paid to us that I’ve never really experienced in an education-type setting,” he says. “We have a small group of six and they take us to the [training] site as a group, so we have a tight bond.”

Roxanne Charles, Director of Workforce Development at Bethel New Life since 2015, has enhanced the program by developing a consistent training schedule and incorporating employer-based feedback for the type of content delivered. Charles has also added a one-week orientation.

“It was a challenge to get individuals engaged beyond the scheduled period of participation—we were at 70% completion.” she says. “The orientation is structured to see if they can make the commitment we need them to make, and incorporates personality tests, stress indicators, work environment simulation, and technology aptitude tests.” Two years after instituting the orientation, AMT has a 100% completion rate.

Curra is grateful for the people who have helped him. “Everyone at the training site is very supportive and the folks at Bethel New Life help with resumes, interviewing, and job placement,” he says. “Everything that I need or questions I need answered, I can get in one place.”

Charles notes that the Wheat Ridge grant has supported the implementation of virtual learning hubs for a continuous learning experience—even after program completion. It also supports transportation assistance to help participants get to the training site and later, hopefully, interview sites. “It sounds minor, but it’s a major support system for individuals in the program who make a commitment without support from family or friends. It’s made a tremendous difference,” she says.

Curra now looks forward to the future. “This has given me a greater hope than I’ve had in a while,” he says. “I’d want to thank anybody who’s given to this program and thank them for this opportunity.”

Through the support of Wheat Ridge donors, Bethel New Life’s AMT program can focus on total life transformation and continue their holistic approach to address barriers individuals may encounter when trying to elevate their careers and lives.

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