Manufacturing Training Program Helps Adult Education Students Develop Marketable Skills

     Published on 12/14/18   Tagged under:    District News   

This is a photo of a group of students standing in front of the DARCO sign on the side of a building.Fernando Bello Echerarria grew up in Cuba. There, he taught IT and computer programming through a government program, but had bigger dreams to build his own technology operation.

“In Cuba, I was the guy who wanted to know what was inside things,” Fernando explained. “I always wondered how things were made.”
Fernando decided to move to Bolivia, with the hope of finding greater success. Success did not come. After three years struggling to find work, he connected with InterFaith Works and was able to resettle in Syracuse, where his mother had already relocated. Staff at InterFaith Works let him know about the Refugee Assistance Program and the SCSD Adult Education program.
“I wasn’t confident in my work skills, so I started coming to classes and trainings,” Fernando explained. He attended classes for a few months before entering the Manufacturing Training Initiative (MTI), a partnership between the SCSD Refugee Assistance Program and DARCO Manufacturing, Inc.
The program consists of two weeks of all-day classes as well as on-site training at DARCO where students learn industry skills hands-on, and it was created to help prepare adult refugee students for employment. Students practice interview skills, learn job-specific skills and more.
Melissa Menon, Talent/Community Engagement Manager at DARCO Manufacturing, said the company has a long history of employing new Americans, with approximately 30 percent of their current workforce consisting of individuals who immigrated to the United States. She said the Refugee Assistance Program’s mission of preparing refugees for work opportunities by training them with necessary skills is what appealed to them about the partnership.
“We have teamed up with the Refugee Assistance Program to supplement and enrich the MTI program with relevant industry skills training and hands-on experience with our employees, tools and machines,” she said. “We do not have frequent turnover, so our primary function in this partnership is to offer quality work exposures and effective networking connections in the broader manufacturing ecosystem.”
For students, these hands-on skills have been invaluable.
“I had never been to a job interview before,” Fernando said. “In training, we did practice interviews. That gave me an idea of what to say and what not to say. It helped give me a chance.”
One week after completing the MTI, Refugee Assistance Program Job Develop Jasenko Mondom called with a job opportunity. Anaren, a global electronics engineering and manufacturing company based in East Syracuse, was looking for help on their technology production line. Fernando interviewed – and got the job!
“I started working in the packing area, controlling the computer controlled machines,” he explained. “Then, they moved me to the first part of the process, where the parts get cut and ready and mounted into a frame. If it wasn’t for the training, I would probably have a bad job. Instead, I have been able to make a change. Now, I can go to work every day and succeed. A year and a half later, I’m still happy where I am.”
Ms. Menon added that DARCO was able to offer seasonal employment to one MTI graduate during the first summer of the partnership, and also assisted her in securing full-time employment with another manufacturer immediately upon completion of her term there. They have also assisted in placing other MTI graduates in positions of employment.  
“The MTI program does really help,” Fernando insisted. “In Bolovia, I never had help like this. I never had anything like this. The program has taught me a lot, and it helps a lot of people. Within six months of arriving in the United States, this program allowed me to be working and providing for myself. It really makes a difference.”
He is enjoying his job, Fernando said, and it has also given him the confidence to start thinking about his long-term plans. In his free time, he is developing code for an Internet company he hopes to launch one day.
“They say you should dream big,” he reflected. “Well, I’m dreaming even bigger than that!”
Fernando is just one of many success stories. Pedro Ponce De Leon Pavon is a veteran from Cuba. In the MTI trainings, Refugee Assistance Program staff learned that Pedro worked as a radio and TV repair technician in Cuba to support his college education. The skills he had perfected in that capacity, like soldering, became his advantage, opening the door to a job at Anaren in June 2018, just one month after he completed the MTI training.   
Since the MTI program started in 2016, about 275 people have completed the course, with about 80 percent ultimately finding full-time work within 2-3 weeks of completing the training.  
“My job is to find out what our clients can do,” Job Developer Jasenko Mondom said. “It was my dream for many years to have some tools and machines available to help us determine someone’s skillset. Through the MTI program, we have formed partnerships with DARCO Manufacturing, Anaren and Dannan Tool & Machine Company, which offer an open door for our students to do some work and experience the environment they would be working in in a factory. It is a great help. It allows us to observe our students’ skills and ensure that we place people with accuracy, being aware of the quality of their work and hiring someone who is highly skilled and that fits with the company and its expectations.”
Mr. Mondom said that in the future, he hopes to see more funding for the program so they can create an in-house workshop with tools and machines to allow students to practice their skills. Even without that, though, he considers the program invaluable.
“As a former refugee myself, I went through the experience of finding jobs and trying to succeed in this country,” Mr. Mondom said. “The best reward for me is to see these people succeed… to see them applying the skills they learned and start new jobs. They sometimes come to my office to say thank you, and they are driving their own car, telling me about how their kids have warm food on the table… It’s something precious, to see the refugee families going on to a better life after receiving some initial training.”
We look forward to hearing the continued success stories of the students completing the Manufacturing Training Initiative!