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Taking a community approach to workforce development

Guest post by Semira Ajani, program director at HABESHA, Inc.

It was about 10 years ago when HABESHA, Inc. took on the role of providing workforce development programming. At this time, the organization experienced a growing demand from the community as well as partners to develop a green jobs training model and, as a result, HABESHA’s leadership quickly began to see a greater vision around building a sustainable model for community development. This involved creating a strategy centered on food security in underserved neighborhoods that would build the capacity of residents to become producers of their own food.

Having seen HABESHA working in the NPU-V community, the Annie E. Casey Foundation approached the executive director with an opportunity to engage its participants in a pilot program intended to expand workforce opportunities for residents to access job opportunities in the emerging green workforce industry. The outgrowth of this initiative led to launching a campaign, referred to as the Urban Agriculture Network (UAN).

There were three primary objectives established around UAN, which included:

  1. Developing a network of experts in the agriculture industry to partner with in order to provide fundamental knowledge and skills training to participants.
  2. Building a cadre of trained residents that were prepared to participate in emerging job opportunities in the urban agriculture field; and
  3. Supporting the continued development of participants to play an active role in producing a high-quality food source in underserved communities.

Thus, the HABESHA Works training initiative was born. The program, which is currently in its tenth year, is a 14-week intensive hands-on training opportunity that immerses residents in developing fundamental skills in sustainable agriculture. The success of this work has led to certifying over 150 low to moderate-income residents from around metro Atlanta. But more importantly, these efforts have led HABESHA to increase its program capacity in a number of ways which include: 

Providing Access to Career Opportunities: Through ongoing relationships with partners, the organization has built a pipeline to job opportunities, which has resulted in nearly 40% of our participants securing employment working at local farms and/or agriculture-based organizations supporting local farming initiatives.

Continuing Training in Entrepreneurship and Business Development: HABESHA has created ongoing training for graduates to access business development specifically focused on farming and value-added product development. This includes six-months of engagement, resulting in participants developing business plans centered on farm management and agricultural product development. As a result, participants become better equipped as entrepreneurs in the field.

Supporting Collaborative Spaces for Networking: HABESHA maintains contact with program participants through an alumni network designed to share resources as well as opportunities to collaborate around cooperative models. To this end, alumni engage in communal work days at local farms and community gardens and share resources that assist in developing distribution models that support collaboration around accessing markets.

Expanding the HABESHA Works Training Model: Because of the success of the HABESHA Works program, the organization was approached by the Nature Conversancy in 2017 to develop a program that would train residents in the broader field of environmental conservation, thus creating the Urban Green Jobs (UGJ) initiative. The program, in its fourth year, is designed to provide residents with training in green infrastructure management and conservation and utilizes partnerships with industry professionals to build a pipeline for minorities to participate and access job opportunities in these fields. To date, UGJ has graduated more than 50 participants and has experienced success with several graduates obtaining employment with partners.


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