NexStep Bridging Employment Gap

September 1, 2015
By Steve Shepelwich, Senior Community Development Advisor


NexStep CNA Graduates

NexStep Certified Nursing Assistant Graduates

To move up the ladder, you have to get a foothold on the first rung. The NexStep Alliance, an innovative adult education partnership, is helping many people in Wichita do just that.

The alliance is a partnership of Goodwill Industries of Kansas and Wichita, Wichita Area Technical College (WATC) and Workforce Alliance of South Central Kansas. NexStep helps adults develop a career plan, prepare for their GED exam and earn a technical certificate that leads to employment. Gayle Goetz, NexStep executive director, said that forging a complex partnership is difficult, but isn't her toughest task. "Convincing our students that they can succeed is our biggest challenge" she said. "They have struggled in the past and are so scared of failing again. Success is a strange word to them."

Students in the program are diverse. They range in age from 16 to 73, with about half between 25 and 45. About 60 percent are not employed, though the remainder have some type of job. Many come from other countries and face language barriers. However, two things they have in common are a desire to improve their skills to get a better job and the lack of a high school diploma.

The doors to employment often are opened by having a high school diploma or GED. That achievement is also required for an individual to receive tuition assistance for technical education through Pell grants or public workforce training funds. The lack of a diploma or GED closes these options both for young adults entering the workforce and proven workers trying to upgrade their skills through technical education.

The NexStep program began with Goodwill and WATC coordinating their respective GED training programs. They initially developed a single entry point that directed students to the most suitable of the two programs. Over time, this partnership grew into a joint venture built on the strengths of each institution. The addition of Workforce Alliance has enabled NexStep to offer integrated career counseling and workforce readiness training.

This partnership allows for important synergies. Students learn that the GED is the first step in a process that can lead to a successful career. The holistic, integrated approach is supported through classes and counseling. For example, a typical course program consists of GED studies for four mornings with Friday’s class focusing on work readiness skills led by the Workforce Alliance. 

Students may also enroll in a Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA) program or blueprint reading class offered by WATC at NexStep’s offices. This not only helps students gain some initial technical skills while working on their GED, but eases the transition into WATC’s technical certification programs.

One big advantage of the programs is that they are offered in one location, helping GED and technical course instructors work as a team. Math concepts taught in the GED program, for example, can be reinforced and applied in the blueprint reading class. “Getting everything under one roof was massive,” Goetz said. 

In addition to supporting this practical aspect of learning, the NexStep offices have been designed to make the students feel confident and successful. The entryway consists of a floor-to-ceiling mural that welcomes students in more than 20 languages. Classrooms are equipped with state-of-the-art audiovisual equipment and furniture which helps students acclimate to professional settings.

NexStep offers an important model for expanding basic education services and workforce training opportunities through high-value partnerships.  Partner contributions are shown in the chart below:

NexStep Contributions

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The integrated curriculum and professional setting, however, can only take a student so far. "Our students show incredible persistence and determination in doing what it takes to earn their GED," Goetz said, adding that based on how the test is designed, "any of our students who earn their GED would be in the top 40 percent of a typical graduating high school class."

Learn more about NexStep.