LAWRENCE — A $12.5 million award to the University of Kansas Center for Research on Learning will help the nation’s largest federal training program for skilled and semi-skilled workers better prepare young people for jobs in the construction and health care industries.
Under the five-year federal Department of Labor contract, the center will lead a consortium charged with training Job Corps staff and contractors to use more effective teaching methods in their work with the 60,000 individuals ages 16-24 who enroll in Job Corps programs each year, many of whom come from economically disadvantaged backgrounds and have had limited success in school.
“These are youth, young adults, who I think are going to be in a better position to beat the odds and have better employment opportunities than their counterparts who don’t participate in Job Corps programs,” said Daryl Mellard, executive director of the Consortium for Excellence in Job Corps Staff Development and director of the Center for Research on Learning’s Division of Adult Studies.
Mellard, the 2011 recipient of KU’s Research Achievement Award, is a member of the National Academy of Science committee on Foundations and Application to Adolescent and Adult Literacy.
“This project gives us the opportunity to apply the fruits of our research to a persistent national problem: How to prepare young people, especially those from disadvantaged backgrounds, for careers in today’s highly competitive fields,” said Don Deshler, director of the Center for Research on Learning. “The potential benefits for the students, the instructors and the nation’s employers are profound.”
The consortium initially will work with two Job Corps “centers for excellence” in Dennison, Iowa, and Pinnellas County, Fla., and then expand to all 125 Job Corps sites in 48 states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico.
Job Corps instructors typically are experts in their fields—culinary arts or nursing, for example—but may not have experience teaching others. KUCRL will draw on more than three decades of research on literacy, teaching and coaching in designing the Job Corps program.
“We want to improve the knowledge, skills and abilities of the Job Corps instructors, counselors and program managers,” Mellard said. “Our emphasis is on building local capacity so they won’t be so dependent on outside experts in the future.”
The consortium will use a mix of face-to-face and online methods to accomplish the goals of the project, including tapping the expertise of KUCRL’s ALTEC division, which has 10 years of experience in developing Web-based resources for teachers and schools.
In addition to KUCRL, the Consortium for Excellence in Job Corps Staff Development consists of five organizations bringing diverse experience and expertise to the project:
- Alternate Perspectives Inc., a small, woman-owned business in Washington, D.C.
- Coffey Consulting, LLP, a participant in the federal government’s development program for small businesses, located in Bethesda, Md.
- Cornerstone Solutions Inc., a veteran-owned business in East Point, Ga.
- Mid-continent Research for Education and Learning (McREL), a private non-profit educational research agency and a U.S. Department of Education Regional Laboratory in Denver.
- Telesolv Consulting, a HUBZone (historically underutilized business zones) small business with experience in website development, maintenance and analytics in Washington, D.C.
“The diversity of the consortium is important because of the complexity of issues that are involved,” Mellard said. “To create systems change on this scale, we have to have the capacity to deal with the multiple facets of the Job Corps system.”