Raise the Floor takes holistic approach in connecting women to manufacturing jobs

The private-public partnership behind boosting Northern Kentucky manufacturing employment continues to make inroads.
The coalition of businesses, nonprofits and educators has found success recruiting high school students through its Passport to Manufacturing program. Now it’s seeing encouraging signs that its Raise the Floor program is attracting more women to manufacturing careers.
The program offers women a quick pathway to full-time employment with NKY manufacturers, often at entry-level jobs paying $14-15 per hour. But it’s also having a wider community impact in ways perhaps not envisioned when Gateway Community and Technical College launched it in early 2014.
“Raise the Floor models a holistic approach to providing academic and case management services and actually provides resources and support for every member of the family,” says Brittany Corde, program coordinator in Gateway’s Workforce Solutions and Innovation Division.
Raise the Floor is geared to “nontraditional” students who might not see themselves as candidates for well-paying manufacturing jobs because they lack the necessary training, they’re single moms without a lot of free time or they’re returning to the workforce after being a caregiver — or some combination of all three circumstances.
Corde explains Raise the Floor as an expressway to training, certification and employment that can change lives and families in just a few months but can impact the larger community over a longer time period.
She points to the program’s “Mom and Me STEM Nights” as a two-generational approach to encourage younger girls to consider careers in science and technology.
“We realize that we’re working with an entire family unit, rather than focusing solely on the student enrolled in classes,” she says.
Raise the Floor has served 75 students to date, who enroll in 16-week classes to attain Certified Production Technician (CPT) certification. With that certification in hand, the women are able to work toward an Associate’s Degree at Gateway or jump right into employment in fields such as manufacturing technology, welding, supply chain management and computerized machining.
The program has placed 30 women in manufacturing jobs so far, with four recent graduates currently interviewing for positions. Nine program graduates are pursuing college degrees, while another 12 are employed in non-manufacturing jobs.
“A slogan we often use within the program is, ‘One class can change your life,’” Corde says. “Many women enroll into the program initially hoping to complete only the short-term certification and find employment as soon as possible. But many times, once the women are enrolled in the course and begin doing well and progressing, they become open to exploring long-term degree programs as well as learning more about mid-level — not just entry-level — positions in manufacturing companies.”
Stephanie Sears 
Corde likes to use Stephanie Sears as an example of the program’s possibilities. A single mother of three children, one of whom requires full-time nursing care, Sears was referred to Gateway after becoming unemployed and visiting the Kentucky Career Center to explore new career opportunities.
Sears enrolled in Raise the Floor in spring 2015 after receiving a scholarship from Partners for a Competitive Workforce to cover her tuition, books and required tests. She passed four industry assessments and earned CPT certification, then enrolled in Gateway’s Manufacturing Engineering Technology degree program.
Sears was nominated to attend the Aspen ThinkXChange two-generational workshop in Colorado this fall and will serve as panelist for a session on design thinking that will focus on aspects of Raise the Floor.
Similar success stories are popping up across NKY, including at ATech Training, a Walton-based designer and manufacturer of automotive training equipment and courseware for car parts manufacturers, community colleges, technical schools and the military.
ATech President Laura Lyons says her company employs three Raise the Floor graduates who are “dependable and willing to learn, which is a huge onboarding advantage.”
“Women constitute half of the workforce and bring skills that are needed to enhance our manufacturing capability,” she says. “This is the face of what our future workforce will be in order to meet customer needs and grow our businesses. Frankly, as an employer I am challenged to attract the best skill level that I can afford.”
Lyons says that Northern Kentucky’s coordinated efforts to attract, train and employ new and nontraditional manufacturing workers is something a small company like ATech couldn’t do on its own.
“Unless all the pieces of workforce development are involved, we won’t be able to prosper as a community,” she says. “Those with the skills get the jobs, and we need the industry to flourish as a community and raise our families. Bridging the skills gap can only be accomplished with a partnership from education, business and community engagement.”
One of the next steps in that community engagement is April 29, when Gateway and The Women’s Fund of the Greater Cincinnati Foundation host a free workshop titled “Making the Case: Hiring With a Gender Lens.” ATech’s operations manager will be among the panelists addressing the role of female employment in regional workforce development and Raise the Floor’s impact on breaking down employment barriers in manufacturing.
The workshop is 7:30-11 a.m. at Gateway’s main campus in Florence. Get more information here.
The next Raise the Floor class starts in June.