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Growing Futures Career Catalyst 2023!

On March 1, the Growing Futures team — Mason Billings, Program Associate and Resources Coordinator; Christie Milligan, Director of Workforce Programs; and Jordan Miller, Director of Education and Training — welcomed 27 trainees to the RINLA Winter Meeting at the Crowne Plaza in Warwick. The next day, those 27 people graduated from RINLA’s green industry entry training called the Growing Futures Career Catalyst or GFCC for short. 

In this rigorous program, participants earn while they learn, pair theory with practice, and engage with scientists, industry leaders and practitioners. The trainees spent 3 days each week for 5 consecutive weeks working in small crews improving RI state lands with supervision from crew leaders recruited from RINLA member companies. This year, all of the crew leaders were Registered Apprentices laid off from their regular jobs for the winter. As a complement to the hands-on work, GFCC trainees oriented to the broad horticulture industry through online learning modules to fill out the rest of their weekly work.

The GFCC program is built on a strategic public-private partnerships between RINLA and a range of state agencies including RIDEM. This winter, the GFCC crews worked in the Arcadia and Big River Management Areas, completing a number of projects. We performed more than 5000 hours of labor, cleared 34.5 miles of recreational trails and fire roads, rebuilt fences and handicap accessible trails, removed debris and trash dumped in remote natural places, and dug out and restored culverts and other infrastructure originally installed by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s. With public investment in green infrastructure and continued strong partnership from critical state agencies, the Career Catalyst program can continue to grow and advance the resiliency of Rhode Island’s lands, places, economies, and people.

The GFCC is a Pre-Apprenticeship program and serves as a potential pathway into Registered Apprenticeship, an earn-while-you-learn model of career development that includes mentored on-the-job learning and other training and educational experiences. After graduation, program graduates are matched with job opportunities and a potential pathway to the more advanced Growing Futures Registered Apprenticeship program. The GFCC is designed to give people practical skills and a pathway to employment, so it allows us to developed strong relationships with employers over time. We hire their staff people as Crew Leaders during winter layoff season, and they choose to hire many of their new staff each year from our pool of graduates. Additionally, the GFCC includes advanced credit toward Registered Apprenticeship. More than 35 companies are currently participating and more than half of all Registered Apprenticeship program participants rose through the GFCC.

One of the GFCC’s principal goals is to expand the workforce pipeline for RINLA member companies. There are a lot of people out there looking for careers in our industry who don’t know how to get started. The GFCC was developed to help them and to connect them to RINLA companies. As a result, the GFCC is composed of diverse cohorts, including a broad range of work, education, and income backgrounds, 58% women, 8% non-binary, and 28% people who identified as other than white when asked about race. Mason Billings, RINLA’s Program Associate and Resources Coordinator, has been developing and strengthening relationships with a wide variety of community partner organizations which paid significant dividends in our recruitment process this year. Each time we run the program, the pool of applicants expands, the diversity of those applicants grows, and the program’s graduation and job placement rates improve. 

After the Career Catalyst trainees graduated, they participated in a job fair that the Growing Futures team organized and uploaded their resumes to the Growing Futures job board. Nearly all of the GFCC graduates participated in the job fair as did 18 RINLA member companies. Many more have posted jobs to the job board. We are very excited to announce that 88% of those GFCC graduates who sought employment got jobs with RINLA member companies.

Trainees adrift in Big River

Written by Jordan Miller

Photographs by Mason Billings and Jordan Miller