Catholic Charities Job Training Program Going Strong After Five Years (Ned Andrew Solomon, Tennessee Register)

Posted 04/08/2016

It's been five years since the OutSOURCE ReSOURCE Job Training Center, Catholic Charities' light manufacturing and assembly initiative, began creating products for businesses and organizations in Middle Tennessee, while providing basic jobs skills to the unemployed and underemployed.

Approximately 388 trainees have gone through the training program. However, according to Megan Stack Emerson, Catholic Charities' Director of Family Assistance and Community Employment, it is very hard to keep track of those who leave the Center and transition to jobs or advanced training in the community. "We estimate that 75 to 85 percent move on to full-time jobs or return to school to further their education. Most people actually leave us because they have found employment, which is great and obviously what we want."

Typically, clients work in the training program for four to six months, learning soft and hard skills that will hopefully lead to full-time work in the local labor force. "We're not designed to keep people long-term; we refer to what we do as ‘bridge employment,'" said Emerson. "We just want to be able to provide that pathway."

The original impetus for the Center was to establish a poverty fighting enterprise that primarily served Nashville's refugee population. More recently, an effort has been made to expand its clientele.

"We began to see that with the refugees' arrival there were peaks and valleys, and that we were missing the boat in our own community," Emerson said. "We have clients and guests that we serve every day who could benefit from this program."

In response, the Center reached out to other Catholic Charities programs like Loaves & Fishes, North Nashville Outreach, and the South Nashville Family Resource Center. The goal is to provide individuals and families another resource, in addition to food pantries, financial assistance and financial education.

"You come to us when you need help with your rent, and we can help you with part of that," said Emerson. "At the same time we can offer you a job and a stepping stone back in."

One of the roles of OutSOURCE ReSOURCE staff is to develop relationships with local businesses and employers in the hopes of creating slots for client trainees to move into. In fact, several employers work in partnership with the Center on a regular basis, since a successful placement is a "win" for both parties.

"There's always an effort to try to move people from the training center into sustainable jobs in the community," Emerson said. "Our staff in the refugee program are also employment specialists, who work alongside employers for that coordinated effort."

Teaching transferable job skills

OutSOURCE ReSOURCE allows clients to learn basic manufacturing skills, while giving them the chance to figure out what they'd like to do, in a low-stress setting. Some clients gravitate toward certain jobs, but Center staff - like Production Manager Henry Crane and Training Lead Hem Kharel - make sure each trainee gets a taste of every skill area.

"We want to be sure to expose the employees to all the jobs that we have on site," said Emerson. "You learn pretty quickly what people really like and where their strengths are, as well as those jobs that really aren't the best fit for that employee."

And it's not just the hands-on skills that are being taught. The make or break of a successful job placement could come down to soft skills, an area that's harder to address but that may have a more significant impact on job sustainability.

"It's about getting along with your co-worker, or making sure to sign in and sign out, or realizing that if you come back five minutes late from lunch your employer's probably not going to be very happy," Emerson said. "So we try to work on these issues, and give many, many chances, in a safe and secure environment, for people to learn these very basic skills that we almost take for granted."

One soft skill is being able to communicate effectively with supervisors as well as peers, to make sure instructions and expectations are clear, and that there are few misunderstandings based on language. In the past couple of years, the Center has been able to include ESL classes two hours each week for refugees participating in the program.

Adapt and diversify

These are all benefits to the trainees. OutSOURCE ReSOURCE also provides services to manufacturers, distributors, non-profit agencies, and local organizations in a number of fields, including printing, healthcare, agricultural, promotional products and disaster relief. An additional, newer Sewing Training Academy was added in August of 2015 to train employees in apparel manufacturing while producing goods for Nashville's burgeoning fashion industry.

Part of its success is the Center's ability to adapt and diversify its offerings, which has opened up its services to more businesses and industries. "As we have progressed over the years, we've been able to grow the types of manufacturing jobs we've had on-site," explained Emerson. "We have a lot of industrial sewing and assembly work on machines that our clients are going to see in other occupations that they might move on to when they find sustainable employment."

In some ways the products that the Center produces now are more sophisticated than when OutSOURCE ReSOURCE opened its doors in April 2011. But the warehouse continues to produce most of the jobs it began doing at the Center's inception. Emerson credits Henry Crane for the program's flexibility in meeting the outsourcing needs of its various customers. "He's good at knowing how to make a product, how to price the product, and how to be able to get it out, by maximizing our time and manpower," explained Emerson. "We try not to turn anything down. We are ‘yes people,' and that has definitely benefited us."

The OutSOURCE ReSOURCE Job Training Center is continually looking for clients to enter its full 4-6 month training program. It also welcomes anybody who would like to work for a couple of months, especially someone needing a summer job. The Center is always open to talking with companies that are looking to outsource, or small business owners who have a product that might be easier or more practical for somebody else to create. For more information about any of these opportunities, contact Megan Stack Emerson at (615) 760-1016 or


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