NEW HAVEN — Since 2012, ConnCAT has provided free vocational training in medical billing and coding, phlebotomy and culinary arts fields that have job openings, aided by the relationships the organization has built with employers.
On the medical end, that is Yale New Haven Hospital, the second largest workplace in the city, which will need coders and phlebotomists for the next decade, Erik Clemons, president and CEO of ConnCAT said. He said the intent of the culinary school was to find employment, mainly for men of color and those who need a second chance.
With ConnCAT’s skills-oriented training, academic support, career preparation and work with the hospitality industry and healthcare agencies, the organization’s goals and success could serve as a road map for other cities seeking to revitalize neighborhoods.
The non profit organization has a 70 percent retention rate for its adult programs. It is modeled after Pittsburgh’s Manchester Bidwell Corp. education center and is an affiliate of Manchester Bidwell’s National Center for Arts & Technology.
Clemons said the people who come to them seeking a more stable work life are staying afloat by working several low-paying jobs. He said full-time skilled work not only gives them a level of independence, it also means “liberation from the suffering of systemic poverty.”
He said the United States deals on and off with the manifestations of poverty: poor housing, health disparities and educational deficits, but not head on with poverty itself. A stable income not only helps the individual think differently about themselves, it makes a positive impact on their family and ultimately the community.
While Clemons now considers himself a person of privilege with his work and status in the community, “I have lived in poverty longer than I have lived in privilege” he said, of growing up in Norwalk and Stamford.
‘What is needed’
Terah Coghill-Wilson, 38, and David Reaves 25, both part-time workers at a local market, are enrolled in the 6-month series of classes and 40-hour externship in culinary arts that began in June.
Coghill-Wilson, whose parents died young, has been on her own a long time, holding down customer service jobs in several states that never provided the opportunity to advance.
“It was really discouraging,” she said of her work life before getting into ConnCAT.
“Poverty in terms of resources leads to poverty of spirit,” Clemons said.