HACC’s STEP Academy Helping Reentrants Find Gainful Employment
October 28, 2020
By Vic Rodgers
Through its innovative STEP Academy, HACC, Central Pennsylvania’s Community College, provides an educational and employment path for ex-offenders lacking job training and opportunities, and for high school seniors and juniors trying to determine future careers. STEP stands for Stand up, Take action, Expect great things, Put in the work.
HACC’s STEP Academy was established in 2016 to facilitate a successful reentry for ex-offenders into the workforce and society. These individuals often face barriers to earning jobs with family-sustaining wages because of poor job skills and lack of exposure to programs and career opportunities. To serve this population, HACC has partnered with statewide organizations, such as the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections, and local organizations, such as Workforce Development Boards and Community Action offices. Through these partnerships, HACC has proudly served over 198 STEP-Reentrant participants with 82 percent program retention from enrollment to graduation. In addition, 52 percent of program graduates were placed into employment.
Participants experience a learning environment that allows them to interact with knowledgeable instructors and learn from industry subject-matter experts in fields with a high demand for employees. Participants develop essential “soft skills” needed to perform today’s jobs. They also learn the ability to work with those from diverse backgrounds and develop desirable workplace characteristics, including motivation, self-esteem and responsibility. The STEP Academy provides case management, mentoring and support for six months following graduation, including financial literacy, coaching and job search, and placement and retention support.
The STEP Academy subsequently was modified to target high school juniors and seniors. HACC believes that early exposure to careers and opportunities can help young students make educated decisions and build a bright future for themselves. To date, over 342 high school students have graduated from HACC’s STEP Academy, many of whom had no clear career path and are now thriving in college or the workforce.