Editor’s note: The following story was sponsored by Resiliency at Work 2.0 Career and Technical Education, a Kansas City-based organization focused on creating and increasing equitable opportunities through education and training for careers in the technically skilled workforce.
Dr. Joy Vann-Hamilton set out to close the diversity gap in the tech workforce; her work through Resiliency at Work 2.0 Career and Technical Education recently received recognition and validation from the community, she shared.
Lee’s Summit-based Resiliency at Work 2.0 — which began classes in 2019 and is the nation’s first African-American and woman-owned nonprofit, private career and technical school, she noted — received $20,000 from the Black Community Fund — whose mission is to provide support and leadership to enhance socio-economic aspects of African American communities in the Greater Kansas City area — at its annual Legacy Gala on Aug. 12.
“First and foremost, it’s very humbling,” Vann-Hamilton said. “It’s also very gratifying, to be honest, because sometimes you’re in the trenches — doing your thing — and you’re pretty heads down. Your motivation is there, but then to have your peers and the community recognize that, I feel honored.”
After attending the Black Community Fund Vision Workshop for the second consecutive year Resiliency at Work 2.0 (RW2) was one of four nonprofits — along with KC United Youth Sports and Education Initiative, The Walker Foundation, and The Village KC — awarded $20,000 after a pitch competition. Vann-Hamiliton shared that she plans to use the funding to expand RW2’s capacity by bringing on a new soft skills instructor, to enhance its resiliency training, and to improve its career development efforts.
“When that opportunity to pitch came along, I felt ready — and even comfortable — given that supportive atmosphere that was present all day throughout the workshop experience,” she added. “But then to be the first organization recognized at the gala for our efforts to increase the representation of African Americans and others for high-demand careers in the tech workforce, that was truly an honor. Then the generous $20,000 gift was and is tremendous.”
RW2, which is certified by the Missouri Department of Higher Education and Workforce Development, offers three programs — Computer-Aided Drafting and Design (14 weeks), Revit for Building Information Modeling (15 weeks), and Cybersecurity (24 weeks) — for adults and high school juniors and seniors, Vann-Hamiliton said.
Click here to learn more about RW2 and its programming.
“We really are out to change the FACE and close the gap of the nation’s technically skilled workforce,” she continued. “All of the letters in FACE are capitalized deliberately. That is our nod to being intentional about increased diversity among those who are underrepresented, underserved — could be low and moderate income — but those who are underrepresented in the technically skilled workforce. We know that there we have a problem that needs to be solved, and we’re just trying to do our part through our school to help be a part of the solution and to help people change their lives, as well, because that’s first and foremost.”
After years of working in STEM higher education as a dean, Vann-Hamilton decided to launch her own career and technical school after noticing the underrepresentation of underrepresented individuals in the tech workforce and the overrepresentation of those individuals in lower-paying service jobs, she explained.
“In Missouri, that talent gap is in — of course, diversity is an issue — but also in what they call middle skill level careers,” she noted. “It’s those careers that you need a credential certification at least after high school, but you don’t necessarily need a college degree. So that is one of the things I look at in addressing that problem.”
She was also motivated by what she saw in the for-profit sector of career and technical education, she continued.
“I loved what I saw in terms of having instructors who had that real world experience, so they can really impart the real deal in terms of getting this skill set: what it looks like, elevate that information, make that textbook information come alive,” she added. “What I didn’t like so much was the business model that I saw. Unfortunately, I saw too many students coming away from some of those institutions with nothing to show for it but debt.”
RW2 — which offers year-round, online classes during the day or at night and accepts 15 students per program, per session — currently has about 35 students, she noted.
“I say tiny but mighty,” she added.
Vann-Hamilton said they also have scholarships available through KC Scholars and the Community Services League, plus grants through Missouri’s Fast Track Workforce Incentive Grant program.
“Then if there are folks who aren’t eligible for that, we do have a very generous, non-interest long term payment plan,” she noted.
What sets RW2 apart, according to Vann-Hamilton, is the four Rs: risk-free, real-world, resiliency, and referrals. To start with, the school offers all students two weeks of classes for free.
“We want people to make an informed decision when folks trust us enough to join them in their journey to change their lives,” she said. “We take that seriously.”
Then the classes are all about real-world learning, she continued, led by industry-experienced instructors.
“They can elevate that information that’s in the materials and the resources that are given and give people the tips and the tricks to help them understand the nuances of what it’s like to utilize a particular skill set in the real world on a day in day out basis,” she explained. “So that’s always exciting.”
Teaching the students — not only technical skills — but also resiliency and soft skills, Vann-Hamilton said, is the key to their success outside of the classroom and in the workplace. Their resiliency training emphasizes mental, social, and physical well-being and their soft skills curriculum includes listening, assertiveness, respect, and interview preparation.
“Employers will say to us, even if students come out with their technical skills needing some more assistance — and we know that employers are going to continue to scale them up — we can live with that,” she added. “It is those soft skills that can make the difference.”
After the students are finished with their program, she noted, RW2 does its best to assist them in finding career — or higher education — opportunities. It has a 71 percent post-program employment rate, Vann-Hamilton said.
“I think our biggest impact is really doing what we say we will do in terms of helping people get a skill set, and first and foremost, being focused on the individual,” she said. “I always say, ‘We teach people a curriculum.’ Because sometimes in education, others say, ‘We teach this curriculum.’ I’m like, ‘No, you teach people a curriculum and then we go from there.’”