United Way pilot project seeks to boost parent employability

By Dan Colton
for The Beacon

The United Way of Sheboygan County is launching a pilot program aimed at multi-generational economic prosperity.

The United Way’s Family Success Plan utilizes school-based identification of families who suffer from underemployment or unemployment. The county’s fledgling program aims to increase parents’ employability through partner-provided services including employment training and childcare.

“The pilot is going to be very small,”  said Tom Malmstadt, executive director of the United Way of Sheboygan County, explaining that about three to four families have been identified as motivated and willing participants through the Sheboygan-area’s 4K Head Start enrollment.

Malmstadt said those families are in the process of enrolling in job training through the Sheboygan County Job Center, and said they will be tasked with putting together employment plans with case workers.

“The Job Center will help develop an individual employment plan, and they’ll talk about barriers to employment,” including childcare issues, transportation, health and housing setbacks, Malmstadt said. “So once we develop what our goals for employment are, and what our employment barriers are, we partner with Head Start and they agreed to supply case managers… and the United Way will way fund the case managers.”

During that Job Center employment screening, Malmstadt said participants will be urged to examine whether they need an advanced degree, help with childcare, or just an adjustment of overall work ethic to thrive in the workplace.

It’s all about finding and eliminating obstacles to employment, Malmstadt said, and participants will be connected with prospective employers to make the next step.

“We have talked with some companies who are willing to work with people,” Malmstadt said. “…A solid interview looking to hire them.”

Getting parents into reliable, well-paying jobs is thought to improve the outcomes of children in their household. Malmstadt said that’s where a multi-generational approach comes in.

“I hope at the end of the day, if we train the parents well, the kids will see their parents transition to a job paying a livable wage and learn from that,” Malmstadt said.

The Family Success Plan has been in the works for about 18 months, Malmstadt said. Last year, Malmstadt said he met with community businesses and nonprofits to gauge the interest of local businesses and nonprofits.

He said although there was more support in the Sheboygan community than originally suspected, the United Way isn’t in a hurry to roll out the program its rough edges are ironed out in the pilot.

“We want to make sure this is successful, so we’re moving slow,” Malmstadt said.

He said if the pilot proves to be a working model, additional state and federal funds will be pursued to increase the Family Success Plan’s scope.

“If we can prove some success, I think we’d get some support because we’re talking about (employing) people who are struggling, and suddenly they’re not anymore,” Malmstadt said. “That should be a model not only to fund to scale, but also to replicate.”

The program will be piloted through Jefferson Elementary School in Sheboygan, where former families from Head Start have transitioned with their children.

Jefferson Elementary Principal Zach Pethan said the program’s multi-generational approach also starts with instilling solid work ethic in young students.

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