Meet some of the graduates of WorkSkills 101

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Meet some of the graduates of WorkSkills 101

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COHASSET, Minn. -- MDI has announced that nine employees have successfully completed the inaugural cohort of WorkSkills 101. The Minnesota-based nonprofit social enterprise serves people with and without disabilities by offering inclusive employment opportunities and services.

"These inspiring individuals with and without disabilities volunteered to participate in the first iteration of the program, which was delivered in a six-week format consisting of 13 sessions," said MDI's Director of Employment Services Jeanne Eglinton. "The entire MDI team is proud of them for participating, and for the terrific self-motivation and enthusiasm they showed during the program."

WorkSkills 101

WorkSkills 101 was created by MDI and an outside consultant -- based on broad employee input and needs assessments -- in early 2017 and launched in March. The ongoing goal of the program is to provide an opportunity for MDI's employees to grow both personally and professionally. Secondary goals include helping MDI increase the skill level and productivity of employees while contributing to regional workforce development.

During the first round of training, employees from MDI's facilities in Grand Rapids and Cohasset participated, with training taking place at MDI's new building in Cohasset. The program was delivered in an integrated setting in which employees without disabilities learned side-by-side with their co-workers who have disabilities.

"Integrated learning is a true innovation in the field, and it aligns with the state's overall shift away from sheltered workshops and toward integrated, community-based options," said Eglinton. "MDI is regarded as a successful model of integrated employment. However, the implementation of an integrated training program takes this concept to a new level."

WorkSkills 101 consists of pre- and post-assessments of participants as well as structured learning about safety, being a team player, self-discipline, personality types, interviewing skills, punctuality, confidence and goal setting. The program is strengths-based and customized for each participant so they have the opportunity to reflect about their current work and goals for self-improvement or career advancement.

"The whole idea of WorkSkills 101 is not just to help our employees become more productive for MDI, but also to put them on a path of increased fulfillment and self-sufficiency," said Kyle Erickson, who manages MDI's facility in Cohasset. "If any employee is ready and wants to move into a position elsewhere in the community, that's OK with us. In fact, we encourage it. We want to see people succeed, and we also want to see better awareness in the community about the competency and capabilities of people with disabilities."

Each graduate of the first edition of WorkSkills 101 received a certificate of completion, which they'll be able to use as a resume-builder for future job searches. Opportunities for advancement are also periodically available at MDI, so program leadership is hopeful that the new learning will result in promotions.

While members of the first cohort of WorkSkills 101 are still basking in the glow of their recent graduation, MDI is seeking funding from foundations, corporate giving departments and individuals to offer this training to a second group of employees. The first round was funded in part by the Northland Foundation, U.S. Bank and individual donors. MDI hopes to eventually offer WorkSkills 101 at the organization's other three locations in Grand Rapids, Hibbing and the Twin Cities. Someday, the program could expand to the wider community.

"The need is great, both here at MDI and in the community," said Eglinton. "People with disabilities represent a significant portion of the population in Minnesota, yet they are unemployed at rates more than double those of people without disabilities. What we know here at MDI is that people with disabilities are reliable and hard workers. We feel more employers should understand this, and helping our employees develop their strengths and learn new skills is one way we can make an impact. It's also an endeavor that gets right at the heart of our mission, so basically, it's just the right thing to do."

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