A publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

Freestore Foodbank’s LIFT the TriState program collaborative effort to provide logistics training

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By Mark Hansel
NKyTribune managing editor

A new program to help unemployed and underemployed adults in the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky region receive training in the logistics and transportation field was unveiled at the Northern Kentucky Freestore Foodbank Distribution Center in Wilder Thursday.

Kentucky Education and Workforce Development Secretary Hal Heiner (right) talks with (l to r) Michael E. McCaw, BelFlex Staffing Network CEO, Alecia Webb-Edgington, president of Life Learning Center and Dr. Fernando Figueroa, president of Gateway CTC, about the LIFT program (photos by Mark Hansel).

LIFT the TriState is a partnership of the Freestore Foodbank, the Life Learning Center, Gateway Community and Technical College and BelFlex Staffing Network.

Kurt Reiber, Freestore Foodbank President and CEO, said the program would not be possible without participation of all of the partners, as well as financial support from the Kentucky Work Ready Skills Initiative.

“LIFT was designed to do just that – lift our neighbors out of poverty, give our overall tri-state community and economic area a very big lift, and also give lift to the families that we serve, so they don’t have to deal with hunger anymore,” Reiber said. “LIFT the TriState is a free 12-week program that will teach logistics, inventory management (and) transportation to our students. These visionaries have allowed us to bring this to reality.”

According to the Northern Kentucky Chamber of Commerce and the Economic Development Department for the Commonwealth of Kentucky, jobs in the transportation/warehousing industry in the tri-state area will increase 7 percent by the year 2022.

The LIFT the TriState program will help fill that need by developing a qualified workforce from people who may not currently have the skill set to earn a living wage.

A large crowd was on hand at the Northern Kentucky Freestore Foodbank Distribution Center to hear details about the LIFT the TriState program.

Life Learning Center President Alecia Webb-Edgington, a former state trooper, said in that role, a lot of the conversations she had with people were in the back seat of a cruiser, as she was taking them to a mental hospital, or a domestic violence shelter, or a detention facility.

“I’ve come full circle, to help those individuals that have been convicted, or formerly addicted, and/or unemployed, or underemployed reach their highest potential, through living-wage careers,” Webb-Edginton said. “Our partnership will offer the opportunity of a lifetime for those seeking to break the cycle of poverty, and produce quality applicants for the tri-state’s workforce.”

Reiber explained that while organizations such as the Freestore Foodbank can teach hands-on experience that will allow people to get jobs, they can’t sustain them in a career.

“That takes an academic credential and that’s what Gateway Community and Technical College does for us,” Reiber said. “They have a logistics and supply side training program that is second to none.”

Freestore Foodbank CEO Kurt Reiber talks about the LIFT program at the Freestore Foodbank distribution center in Wilder, Thursday.

Dr. Fernando Figueroa, Gateway Community and Technical College president, said logistics is the career field of focus, but it is a core belief shared by the partners that will spur the success of the program.

“That is the inherent dignity and worth of every human being,” Figueroa said. “Whatever your circumstances, whatever pathway you have gone through, you still have something of value and worth. That is your talent and your ability to work that talent and (for us to) recognize that talent is the key to getting people, not just to a job, but to that career.”

The LIFT the TriState program, he said, is a great example of the type of integrated approach that will be necessary to bring people out of poverty and develop and maintain a skilled workforce in the region.

“Students, particularly from this program, will learn about who they are and the value of what they do through the Life Learning Center,” Figueroa said. “They will come to us and they will be trained in a specific, industry-recognized credential called the Certified Logistics Associate, which will then give them the entryway into that first job that they can then begin to develop into their own careers. This is a solid credential, it’s not something that was just made up on the fly.”

Students in the program will work at the Northern Kentucky Freestore Foodbank Distribution Center from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. each day. They will also spend time at the Life Learning Center where they will create a vision for their future and receive help implementing it.

“We deliver a free, customized education and care program that’s focused on addressing barriers in five pillars of life – financial, spiritual, relational, physical and emotional,” Webb-Edgington said. “Those who enroll will be given the opportunity to receive the necessary wraparound support and life lessons required, not only to find a job…but to keep a job.”

The final step in the integrated approach, upon completion of the program, is putting the students in touch with the companies that need workers. That’s where the BelFlex Staffing Network comes in

BelFlex CEO Michael E. McCaw said by working with its network of local employers, such as Wayfair and DHL, the company will provide opportunities for those that complete the program to move directly into a stable work environment.

“We love to put people to work and we love to see their skills help our clients succeed,” McCaw said. “This is a fast-growing industry and we really need talent to keep it growing in the tristate and this program will provide one source of that talent.”

In Greater Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky, the transportation and logistics industry accounts for more than 71,000 jobs, or 7.3 percent of the region’s workforce. Those statistics helped demonstrate the crucial for a program to train and prepare candidates with the necessary resources and skill sets to fill that unemployment gap now and in the future.

In May, the Education and Workforce Development Cabinet announced Freestore Foodbank would receive $267,000 in funds, through the Work Ready Skills Initiative, to purchase the upgraded training equipment needed to help implement the program. The grant was part of a $33.1 million second round of funding from the Cabinet to encourage the development of a highly-skilled workforce to fill jobs in the advanced manufacturing, healthcare, technology, construction and transportation sectors.

Kentucky Education and Workforce Development Secretary Hal Heiner was on hand for the announcement and said business investment is strong in the state and Northern Kentucky is leading the way.

“(For example), the big announcements that you’ve had in the logistics area alone – DHL announcing a big investment, 300 more employees, Amazon deciding to put their world airlines located right here,” Heiner said. “Depending on which article you read, (that accounts for) thousands and thousands of jobs right here in Northern Kentucky.”

The challenge is to fill those jobs and that is why Heiner, who was a member of the 10-member committee that chose the grant recipients, said there was not one dissenting voice upon review of the LIFT the TriState application.

“We have to grow skills in our state,” Heiner said. “We have about a 200,000 adult citizen gap in this state of the skills necessary to meet the jobs that are either here, or that are already announced and are coming to Kentucky.”

After receiving the LIFT Certification of Completion, graduates will be qualified to work in a variety of warehouse settings, including distribution, material handling, warehouse management, and contexts involving food and hazardous materials. High school students, beginning with this year’s pilot program in Lloyd Memorial High School, as well as unemployed and underemployed adults 18 and older are eligible to apply.

The first LIFT the TriState class begins Monday, July 24. For scheduling details, click here, or email Maria Studt at mstudt@freestorefoodbank.org .

Contact Mark Hansel at mark.hansel@nkytrib.com

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