Emily Price is the Director of the Center for Employment Training at So Others Might Eat, in Washington , DC. In the interview below, Emily shares her take on skills training as a pathway to success and what she’s learned from her work in the field.
Tell us a little about your professional background and how you came to focus on workforce development?
I started my career as a case manager with Adult Protective Services and later enrolling children into the Children’s Health Insurance Program. My attention started to wander towards policy when I became an Emerson Hunger Fellow with the Congressional Hunger Center. Through my fellowship I researched the impact of emergency food assistance and studied anti-hunger and nutrition policies. Knowing social justice was my passion; I completed my Masters of Social Work and returned to DC for another stint in case management and therapy. All my direct service taught me about poverty from the people living it and I quickly discovered that helping people navigate the existing landscape of services wasn’t enough; I needed to be part of creating a successful, results driven, top notch institution. Through mutual colleagues I learned about So Others Might Eat (SOME)’s employment training program and immediately fell in love. In my 11 years at SOME Center for Employment Training we have grown from serving 35 people a year to 180. Our budget has grown from $650,000 to $1.6 million and staff has grown from 5 to 17. Most impressively our placement rate has grown to 100% graduate job placement. I am a graduate from the Aspen Institute Workforce Leaders Academy and held multiple seats on Mayoral Workforce Development Taskforce committees.
When did you first get involved with NSC and why?
When I first came to SOME I was interested in learning more about the workforce landscape and best practices of other jurisdictions. I found myself turning to National Skills Coalition. Recently, new WIOA regulations and Integrated Basic Education Skill training work has brought me closer to NSC and their work in these areas.
Can you tell us about your efforts with SOME’s Center for Employment Training?
The SOME Center for Employment Training (SOME CET) is a licensed Postsecondary Title IV Vocational Institution that prepares homeless and low income men and women in Washington, DC to secure and retain living wage jobs in fields that have established career ladders and offer opportunities for advancement. Launched in 1998, the program remains the only free program in DC that provides job training and wraparound services to the District’s homeless population. The SOME CET model includes sector skills training in highdemand industries, integrated basic education, job readiness instruction, job placement services, and one year post placement retention support. In 2015, SOME CET enrolled 159 students, successfully graduated 72%, and placed 100% of graduates in jobs; with 87% of employed students retaining employment for at least one year. Rather than hastily moving students through 3-4 week courses and then placing them in jobs where they are expected to sink or swim, SOME CET’s students take an average of 6 months to complete our program. During training, students receive support that ensures they overcome personal challenges. Staff works with students to assess work skills and interests. Students then choose career tracks within two high-growth sectors: health care and maintenance. Training is just the beginning: SOME CET supports its graduates for 365 days’ postplacement ensuring the first year of employment is a success.
What brought you to your position as Director of the Center for Employment Training?
The holistic model of providing a technical job skill, integrated basic education and support services concurrently was absolutely the right balance for me. I know that the greatest secret to helping people move out of poverty is education and it’s not always the traditional English and Math education we commonly consider. True transformation happens when people have safe and supportive environments to change. SOME CET is such a place. It’s through this space people learn to hope, they learn to dream and ultimately they learn to believe in themselves. Staff is trained on motivational interviewing, trauma informed care, solutions focused theory, and strength's perspective. I'm a social worker at heart and all our training has a therapeutic element infused in the work. Our employer partners rave about the graduates emotional maturity, professionalism and dynamic communication skills. We see graduates promoted within the first year of employment because they can handle conflict, read rulers, convert fractions and navigate interpersonal relationships. One employer was able to increase revenue by 40% and positive Yelp reviews doubled when they hired three of our graduates. The model of serving the whole person is what brought me to SOME.
What do you feel has been your most meaningful accomplishment during your time at SOME?
My focus and attention has always been to put the mission into action and show participants one option for success. Being part of the solution and making policy work through practice is a great honor. In the social service sector we are really good at pointing out what’s not working rather than offering solutions. SOME CET is a demonstration on successful social justice programs. We have seen remarkable success since implementing our IBEST program with nearly 40% increase of educational functioning level. Additionally the One Year post employment Retention Program has an 87% success rate.
However, the true measure of my work is in the lives that have been changed. It's not the number served, graduated or employed; it's the alumni that take their family on vacation for the first time, or show off their first car. When we teach a person with a history of trauma and abuse that they are not bound by their past, but liberated by their future; they are free to learn and grow. That is what SOME CET does and that is what brought me to lead the impressive SOME Center for Employment Training.