Emilee Swenson pulls children in a wagon at Tomorrow’s Hope child care center Tuesday in Everett. (Andy Bronson / The Herald)

Emilee Swenson pulls children in a wagon at Tomorrow’s Hope child care center Tuesday in Everett. (Andy Bronson / The Herald)

HopeWorks to offer career training for child care workers

The Everett nonprofit hopes to train workers as child care centers struggle to hire staff.

EVERETT — Snohomish County, like the rest of the country, needs more aides, teacher assistants and entry-level child care workers. Staff at HopeWorks Social Enterprises believe they can help.

In January, the nonprofit will offer a new job training program for people interested in Early Childhood Education. The program is geared toward people without a formal education or those who have been out of the workforce for a long time.

“The families that benefit from this are going to be on a career pathway that has all sorts of possibilities,” said Fred Safstrom, the CEO of HopeWorks and Housing Hope.

The new program is expected to take place at Tomorrow’s Hope, a child care center run by one of the nonprofits. Tomorrow’s Hope is one of four businesses that will host HopeWorks’ trainees. The nonprofit also offers professional development programs at Kindred Kitchen, Renew Home & Decor and Ground Works Landscaping.

The job training programs generally take about 13 weeks, depending on the career path trainees choose. The program provides all of the participants’ meals, including meal kits for the weekend. HopeWorks also has an assistance program that helps people navigate issues that could prevent them from attending the program. If a trainee has access to a car, but can’t afford gas, for example, HopeWorks provides gas gift cards.

Every few weeks, trainees receive gift cards to stores like Fred Meyer or Walmart for essential items. The gift cards usually add up to about $1,200 at the end of the program, HopeWorks spokesperson Brea Armbruster wrote in an email.

Renata Maybruck, chief operating officer for HopeWorks, said they’re currently hiring someone to oversee the job training program at Tomorrow’s Hope. Maybruck expects the program to train up to 20 people by June. Most likely, four people will be in the first cohort. Three will learn about working as a teacher’s assistant and one will learn about large-scale food production in the cafeteria.

“Food prep and culinary is also a very hot market,” Maybruck said. “Many people left the industry during the pandemic.”

Eventually, Maybruck hopes the program will include more career options in the Early Childhood Education field. The nonprofit wants to partner with local colleges and help people in its program to earn college credits, she said.

For now, though, the program graduates can either pursue an entry-level position at a child care center or continue their education at a college. Safstrom believes program graduates won’t have issues finding a job.

“There is a huge demand for child care workers,” Safstrom said. “There is significant turnover, particularly the entry-level positions, in child development centers and child care centers.”

Casey Gibson helps Naomi Rose on the playground bars at Tomorrow’s Hope child care center Tuesday in Everett. (Andy Bronson / The Herald)

Casey Gibson helps Naomi Rose on the playground bars at Tomorrow’s Hope child care center Tuesday in Everett. (Andy Bronson / The Herald)

Even before the pandemic, turnover rates were high.

Washington’s child care workers earn about $16 per hour on average, according to 2020 numbers from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Nationally, they earn around $12 per hour.

The pay makes it difficult for people to afford the cost of living. In Snohomish County, a single person who earns $16 per hour earns less than 50% of the area median income and is considered “very low income” by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. A person in this financial situation generally qualifies for a Section 8 voucher.

Maybruck said this is part of the reason HopeWorks wants to partner with colleges and help trainees earn college credit. It would give them the option of working their way up at a child care center or pursuing another, higher paying job in Early Childhood Education. The new training program is an entry point into a career either way, Maybruck said.

“It’s a classic Catch-22,” Maybruck said. “You can’t get experience without experience.”

Even so, the program’s graduates would fill an immediate need. Many of Snohomish County’s child care centers permanently closed because they couldn’t find staff, Tomorrow’s Hope Director Mandy Cheever said.

“We had countless people coming in, because centers were just closing left and right,” Cheever said. “After closing their doors for so long, it’s hard to reopen.”

Even Tomorrow’s Hope lost some staff during the pandemic, Safstrom said.

“There’s no doubt that some of these trainees are going to be hired as permanent employees with us,” Safstrom said.

Katie Hayes: katie.hayes@heraldnet.com; Twitter: @misskatiehayes.

Katie Hayes is a Report for America corps member and writes about issues that affect the working class for The Daily Herald.

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