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New England Business Associates Launches Learn to Earn Initiative

SPRINGFIELD — New England Business Associates (NEBA), a supported employment provider in Massachusetts and Connecticut, is celebrating the launch of its Learn to Earn initiative, thanks to a Kessler Foundation Signature Employment Grant that will fund the project for two years. The initiative, intended to introduce, train, and place four cohorts of employment candidates with disabilities to entry-level manufacturing positions, is the brainchild of NEBA CEO Jeannine Pavlak.

The need for qualified employees to fill positions in the manufacturing industry is becoming critical; in many areas of the U.S., upwards of 35% of current manufacturing jobs will become vacant due to retirement by 2022. Pavlak, who is recognized nationally as a subject matter expert in disability employment, sees this as an opportunity. Manufacturing is not currently viewed as a typical pathway to gainful employment for people with disabilities, but there’s no reason it can’t become one. Learn to Earn will give identified candidates the initial training and skills needed to succeed in a manufacturing environment.

Over the next two years, 48 candidates with disabilities and barriers to employment will be identified and receive Level 1 and 2 MACWIC manufacturing training and OSHA training, in partnership with MassMEP in Massachusetts and ConnStep in Connecticut. Candidates will also receive NEBA’s customized career-ladders training, designed to cater to individual needs in building employment skills. The goal of Learn to Earn is to place candidates in manufacturing positions that will allow them to earn a sustainable income, eliminate the need for public assistance, and foster growth and future promotions in the field.

“MassMEP is looking forward to providing basic manufacturing training to NEBA’s clients and further expanding the manufacturing pipeline,” said Kathy Mahoney, MassMEP’s center director.

After placement, employees and employers will be given access to Tooling U-SME, a customized online platform with more than 800 manufacturing courses, allowing employers to identify and customize specific trainings for Learn to Earn employees.

“Learn to Earn doesn’t stop once someone is placed in a manufacturing job,” Pavlak said. “Tooling U-SME will help employees sustain and build on their initial training, as well as learn new skills that will make them more valuable employees.”

When the grant period ends in December 2021, data will be disseminated, and results of the initiative will be shared with regional workforce boards. From there, Pavlak hopes the success of Learn to Earn can spread far and wide.

“At NEBA, we love to innovate and collaborate,” she said. “We’re proud to be part of multiple national networks, including APSE and AAIDD. We hope to share our success with others who can replicate it and to expand the Learn to Earn framework into other employment sectors, such as information technology and healthcare.”

Those interested in learning more about the Learn to Earn initiative may e-mail inquiries to [email protected] or call NEBA at (413) 821-9200.

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