Collaboration Wins: Taking Action To Expand Our Community’s Workforce

Written by: Kristi Huber

By Kristi Huber, President & CEO of United Way of Cass-Clay

You’ve heard the adage – “give a man a fish, and you will feed him for a day. Teach him how to fish, and you will feed him for a lifetime.” Today, because of innovative collaborations across our community the way people are learning how to “fish” is being revolutionized. New partnerships are helping people gain access to valuable skills to attain living-wage jobs, while helping companies feeling the pain of a workforce shortage, fill their open positions. 

Innovative Collaborations Provide a Skilled Workforce for our Community 

In 2017, United Way of Cass-Clay developed a pilot partnership with M State and CAPLP to invest in a Workforce Development Case Manager to assist low-income individuals with supportive services and increase access to the existing training programs offered through M State. The goal was to empower people to attain living-wage employment, while at the same time, address our communities’ need for a skilled labor force.    

James is one of the many success stories emerging from this collaboration. While seeking opportunities for employment, James enrolled in the Certified Production Technician (CPT) training with M State and was connected with Amy Feland, a Workforce Development Case Manager with CAPLP.  Amy works with individuals to eliminate the barriers that prevent them from attaining and maintaining employment that can support themselves and their families.  

Amy connects single mothers like Jenny, a 23-year-old in Moorhead, with the resources to receive training to become Certified Nursing Assistants (CNA’s).  She walks side-by-side with individuals like Jonathan, who have recently exited the criminal justice system. Amy helps them reach their goals of completing welding training and earning a job as a welder at one of many manufacturing businesses in need of qualified, trained and dependable employees. 

“The Certified Production Technician training program is six hours a day, for eight weeks straight. James never missed a day – he was determined to accomplish his goals,” said Amy Feland, Workforce Development Case Manager.  

Thanks to help from a Workforce Development Case Manager, James was able to have the support he needed to complete Certified Production Technician training and become employed at Marvin in Fargo.  

Creating Valuable Connections 

One unique aspect of the program is that a speed-interviewing event is coordinated at M State for students like James to practice their interviewing skills, and for employers to connect with potential hires. At one of these events James met Dacia Meckle, a Human Resources representative from Marvin. “I saw right away that James had what it takes to work for a company like ours,” she said.  Thanks to support from Amy, and the connections gained at the speed interviewing event, James was thrilled to begin a job at Marvin, and Marvin was thankful to gain a trained and valuable employee. 

Stacey Irion, James’s Supervisor at Marvin, is grateful to have James a part of the team. He works on the production floor and does a great job assembling and packaging windows. He also works a second job, too. “James is hard working and has a big dream to be on his own and reach his goal of being a home owner,” she said.  

“James’s story is an amazing example of how United Way is collaborating with multiple groups, individuals and organizations to lift people out of poverty,” said Feland. 

And the results of the program speak for themselves. Seventy-one percent of the individuals working with the Workforce Development Case Manager were able to get living wage positions. This innovative model is breaking the cycle of poverty, and giving businesses much-needed skilled employees, like James.  

When you can see an individual go from being in poverty, to now working in a career and coming home every day to an apartment, and is able to support his family, you can see the good that can come from this work. It impacts our entire community.” 
Amy Feland, CAPLP Workforce Development Case Manager

Scaling the Success 

With the successful return on investment from the pilot program, United Way expanded this work to impact more individuals and families, and continue to fill our communities need for skilled workers.   

In March, with the support of private and public investments, United Way expanded the reach of services from one, to now six Workforce Development Case Managers working year-round across the community. These case managers work each day to provide culturally appropriate employment services, assistance with transportation, access to English language classes, access to job training, child care, and housing.

In just four months, 74 percent of the people served through this partnership are now employed at local businesses such as Hornbacher’s, Sanford Health, Marvin, Swanson Health Products, Eventide and the Delta Hotels by Marriott Fargo.   

The growth of this project provides the opportunity to serve over 200 individuals each year seeking employment.  The impact is multiplied when companies have access to 200 potential team members and the 200 employees will be able to sustain their families with living-wage jobs.  

Model Recognized by Minnesota Board of Education

In April, United Way of Cass-Clay was recognized for the measurable success of this collaboration at the Minnesota Campus Compact Presidents’ Awards. These awards provide an opportunity for member presidents and chancellors to give statewide recognition to effective leaders in the development of campus-community partnerships.  As the President’s Community Partner Award recipient, United Way of Cass-Clay was honored as an organization that has enhanced the quality of life in the community in meaningful and measurable ways and has engaged in the development of sustained, reciprocal partnerships with the college or university, thus enriching educational as well as community outcomes.

When we as a community can collaborate to bring effective solutions to our communities biggest challenges, we cultivate lasting change that not only lifts local people out of poverty, but also supports the growing demands of our local workforce helping to fuel our economy. This is United Way of Cass-Clay’s vision for creating a better tomorrow for all of us.  This is the power of community. REALIZED.  

Watch James’ story at 

We are grateful to have James a part of the team, where he works on the production floor and does a great job assembling and packaging windows.”
Dacia Meckle, Human Resources, Marvin 

Fargo United Way
Because of United Way, six Workforce Development Case Managers provide ongoing support, training and job skills to help low-income individuals lift themselves out of poverty.
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