Betsy Binnian is the basic skills instructor who helps teach this class. She shows students how to take notes in class, lines up guest speakers, and organizes field trips and internships. She focuses on what she calls “employability skills.” “Employers often say things like, ‘Can you just send somebody that can come on time?’” she says. So Binnian stresses to her students the importance of being punctual, calling in when you’re sick, and asking permission if you need to leave early. “Those are really basic things,” she says, “but a lot of it doesn’t gel right away. It’s amazing.”
Forza says he sees his future as “more stable and secure” once he completes this course, because he’ll make more money. He wants to be able to provide for his three-year-old daughter. “I wish I would have gotten into this a lot quicker. I feel if I would have done this earlier, I would have been extremely further along in my career and probably had my own auto shop going. That’s my goal, I want to have my own shop.”
To offer an IBEST program, colleges first have to meet certain labor market criteria to prove there are available jobs in the field. They also have to show that students can earn a living wage when they graduate. In Washington, it’s approximately $13 an hour (in every county except one, where it’s $ 15 an hour). “We want students to leave and be able to get a self-sustaining job,” says Kerr. Independent research found students in I-BEST programs were three times more likely to take college credits and nine times more likely to complete college compared to students in non I-BEST programs.
The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is one of several funders that have invested in “scaling up” this model to seven states through an initiative called Accelerating Opportunitiy. Several more states, including Maryland and Texas, are implementing versions of I-BEST on their own.
Jay Box, chancellor of the Kentucky Community and Technical College System, says I-BEST has been a success in his state. Through an Accelerating Opportunities grant, Kentucky began offering I-BEST programs in 2012 and now 16 colleges offer more than 30 programs including welding, industrial maintenance and air-conditioning technology classes. Box calls the state’s two-year results “amazing.” “Of the 750students enrolled in I-BEST classes between January 2012 and August 2013, 61 percent have earned an industry recognized certificate or degree. Compare that to more than 7,000 students enrolled in the same programs but who weren’t in I-BEST classes- only nine percent of the comparison group earned a credential during the same time frame. They weren’t progressing as quickly or successfully as their I-BEST counterparts.”
Zoe Thompson, director of Workforce Training and Education at the Department of Commerce and Board of Regents in Kansas called it a “system transformation” For delivering adult education and career technical education at the same time. She says they’ve enrolled more than 2,000 students in two years, offering almost 30 career pathway programs including building construction, machining and HVAC. She says the students have earned more than 2,500 industry- recognized certificates. More than 700 students are now employed earning a living wage, says Thompson. I-BEST programs ask area employers to get involved through advisory committees, internships and guest lectures. Thompson says this pays off. “Employers are involved upfront so we don’t just hope our students will get a job, we know they’re going to get a job. This helps serve our students in a much more deliberate way.”