Professional Skills Academy:
Advancing Careers for the East Hartford Community
The history of how it all started
The Federal Reserve Bank of Boston, commonly called the Boston Fed, is responsible for the first of 12 districts in the Federal Reserve, otherwise known as the United States central banking system.
The first district of the Federal Reserve covers New England — Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, Vermont, and all of Connecticut except Fairfield County.
In 2009, the Boston Fed released a study that examined the region’s employment, why some cities were prospering, and why others were not. The study concluded that thriving communities possessed leadership and collaboration.
Following the study’s findings, the Working Cities Challenge grant program was created to help low and middle-income residents find employment and engage in their community.
The grant program began in Connecticut in 2018, serving Danbury, East Hartford, Hartford, Middletown, and Waterbury.
East Hartford’s program is called East Hartford CONNects, and its services are available to the entire town (Condon, 2021).
The heart of East Hartford
East Hartford is a diverse community with 53 languages spoken in the school district. Forty-eight percent of East Hartford’s student population is Hispanic, with more than 30% of family households led by single women.
The median income for East Hartford is $50,000 annually, yet for historically excluded populations, the yearly median income is $16,000 less than the remainder of the town (East Hartford CONNects, n.d.).
With the COVID-19 pandemic exposing ongoing racial disparities in criminal justice, employment, healthcare, housing, and wealth, the realities of the everyday struggles that many East Hartford residents face were further revealed this past year.
“Our focus is to reduce the achievement and earning gap for families in East Hartford, but we are particularly focused on communities of color,” Amy Peltier, Director of East Hartford CONNects, explained (Condon, 2021).
With a mission to employ, educate, and engage, East Hartford CONNects stands by its purpose to create a career development culture within the East Hartford community. Intending to increase wealth for 10% of households earning below $50,000, enrolled learners are encouraged to participate in district planning, decision-making, and leadership opportunities (East Hartford CONNects, n.d.).
Throughout the pandemic, EH CONNects has:
- Helped 25 people enter the workforce,
- Delivered career coaching to 55,
- Administered financial literacy workshops to 95, and
- Connected more than 1,000 residents to basic needs services such as clothing, food, health support, and shelter (Condon, 2021).
EH CONNects also funds workshop employment initiatives like Goodwin University’s Professional Skills Academy, preparing East Hartford residents with the skills to enter the workforce.
The Professional Skills Academy: Career workshops that work
Dr. Michael Wolter is the co-creator and lead instructor of the Professional Skills Academy (PSA). He is also a Teaching Fellow, Program Director, and Associate Professor for Goodwin University’s Management and Leadership program. A former career advisor, Dr. Wolter established the Academy with his Goodwin colleagues.
During the global COVID-19 pandemic, the PSA’s 2021 cohort was entirely online for all four weeks of the program. The classes were held via live stream, which proved to be a more flexible option for East Hartford residents with families at home.
Among several course options offered, PSA workshops include:
In the Conflict Response course, students complete the Thomas Kilman Instrument (TKI assessment), a means to understand how people typically approach conflict—either through accommodating, avoiding, collaborating, competing, or compromising styles. After receiving their results, learners develop strategies to work with people who have different conflict approaches. Students also discuss skills like accountability and professionalism throughout the class and learn to reframe and defuse conflict to create better communication outcomes.
Cover Letter and Resume Development
In the Cover Letter and Resume Development course, learners produce a clear and concise cover letter and résumé that effectively demonstrate transferable skills. In the class, students structure and format their career documents for easy readability, use action words to describe accomplishments, and illustrate the match between employer needs and their unique skill set.
Through various mock interview practice sessions, from video conferences to telephone-based assessments, participants discover their interviewing strengths and areas to improve. Within the workshop, students also study job interview preparation, research, execution, and follow-up. Additionally, the Professional Skills Academy sector concentrates on attitude and work ethic while educating residents on reading body language and practical questions to ask potential employers.
Manufacturing Career Visit
This segment of the PSA provides a tour of the CNC, welding, mechatronics, and quality labs at Goodwin University, with opportunities to ask questions about careers in advanced manufacturing.
The Mentoring Skills class embraces mentoring strategies with knowledge and skill transfer success. This course also highlights the importance and benefits of diversity in mentoring relationships given generational, cultural, and gender differences.
PSA’s Personal Finance course incorporates tips to tackle essential financial planning, benefits, taxes, insurance, and consumer debt.
The Professionalism workshop covers topics such as honesty, integrity, time management, and workplace attire. Students enrolled in the class also take a Myers-Briggs Type Indicator personality profile to identify their internal core values and understand their preferences for taking in information. The results of the Myers-Briggs test distinguish how each student prefers to recharge their energy, and the completion of the assessment educates learners on appreciating the differences of other personality types in the workplace.
The Team Dynamics workshop provides insights on adapting to professional settings, establishing interpersonal skills, and problem-solving. Participants also complete a Team Dimensions Profile Assessment, which allows them to understand their roles and functioning traits within a team.
The Technology Skills course introduces students to Microsoft Excel and Word applications, creating Word documents, graphics and charts, organizing information, and performing calculations within a spreadsheet.
“Students have a great understanding of who they are by the time they leave the Academy,” Dr. Michael Wolter detailed, “When graduates go in for interviews, and prospective employers say, ‘Tell us about yourself,’ they have real substance to start the conversation with.”
Want to find out how the Professional Skills Academy elevated one student’s future? Click here to read Shaniel’s story!
Goodwin University is a nonprofit institution of higher education and is accredited by the New England Commission of Higher Education (NECHE), formerly known as the New England Association of Schools and Colleges (NEASC). Goodwin University was founded in 1999, with the goal of serving a diverse student population with career-focused degree programs that lead to strong employment outcomes.