Five Questions With: Regan Brewer

Regan Brewer is president of the Jane Addams Resource Corp., a Chicago-based nonprofit that earlier this month opened a manufacturing-focused workforce training center at 50 Sims Ave. in Providence. 

In partnership with Polaris MEP, the organization now intends to use the JARC model, which has also been replicated in Baltimore, to bring education and professional development opportunities to under-resourced communities.

PBN: How did this partnership form between JARC and Polaris MEP?

BREWER: Back around 2017, Polaris MEP was introduced to the Jane Addams Resource Corporation through the Rhode Island Department of Labor and Training. DLT and Polaris MEP organized a trip to Chicago to see our programs in action, and they decided they wanted to make an effort to recreate JARC’s model here Rhode Island. So, they reached out to us, we began planning for this day, and here we are. Our partnership has grown out of a shared mission and values, and we really capitalize on what each organization does well.

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PBN: How does JARC track results at its other centers, and what impacts has the organization noted?

BREWER: We track traditional workforce development outcomes such as program completion, job placement, wages and retention. For each of those benchmarks, our programs average 80%-90%. Average wages are currently about $20 to $21 per hour. The Illinois Department of Employment Security did a study on wage progression post-placement for our grads and found a 27% increase in wages in their first year, 18% in their second year and 11% in their third year. So, we know that our graduates are moving up the career ladder.

In addition to these outcomes, we also track indicators of financial health, such as credit score increases, net worth increases and net income increases. We find that around 70% of graduates achieve at least one financial goal within their first year post-placement.

PBN: What has happened at the Rhode Island center in its first few days of operation, and what community interest has it attracted?

BREWER: We have already begun working with several manufacturing companies. Since last July, we have trained about 50 workers across three companies. The feedback that we are getting is that these employees are gaining the skills they need to advance within their companies and that they are growing as versatile employees, allowing them to work in multiple departments and machines and making them more valuable to the company.

At 50 Sims Ave., we have begun recruiting participants to our programs that are for job seekers, so we’re primarily serving folks who are unemployed and underemployed. We also partner with several other community-based organizations and the public workforce system to recruit. We are currently enrolling interested participants and will begin training in the next two weeks.

PBN: How has JARC evolved in recent years to meet current manufacturing workforce needs?

BREWER: We strive to be as responsive to the manufacturing sector as possible, so that means we follow Industry 4.0 trends, such as additive manufacturing and robotics, and plan to add training tracks for those occupations within the next couple of years. That will, of course, be based on labor market demand.

We also adjust curricula based on industry feedback. We will customize our training to meet their needs whenever possible. If a company is looking to hire but not sure if our training fits, they should reach out to Polaris MEP. They’ll be the lead on business engagement and with their mission to serve the manufacturing sector in R.I., they might be able to help a company with more than just workforce needs.

PBN: How do Rhode Island workforce needs compare to other states where JARC has centers?

BREWER: The manufacturing sector across the country is struggling to attract the next generation of workers. A combination of factors – baby boomer retirement, disinvestment in career and technical education at the high school level and advances in technology – suggest that more than half of job openings over the next decade could go unfilled. Many of these positions are middle-skilled – meaning they require less than a four-year degree but some training and certification.

We hear this in just about every labor market we go to. The manufacturing sector may look different from place to place – for example, one area may be heavy in automotive or aerospace and another in renewable energy or transportation – but the workforce challenge is the thread that runs through all of them.

Jacquelyn Voghel is a PBN staff writer. You may reach her at Voghel@PBN.com.