Skip to main content

PluggedIn and WorkREADY! at Southwest Virginia Community College: 2018 final report. (Styers et al. 2018)

  • Findings

    See findings section of this profile.

    Evidence Rating

Absence of conflict of interest.

Citation

Styers, M., Haden, C., Cosby, A., & Peery, E. (2018). PluggedIn and WorkREADY! at Southwest Virginia Community College: 2018 final report. Charlottesville, VA: Magnolia Consulting, LLC.

Highlights

  • The study’s objective was to examine the implementation of Southwest Virginia Community College’s (SWCC) Trade Adjustment Assistance Community College and Career Training (TAACCCT) grant, the PluggedIn and WorkREADY! Initiative, which provided six months of intensive training in advanced manufacturing to build career skills for TAA-eligible adults, veterans, un- and under- employed adults, and adults without a high school diploma.
  • The study authors conducted a mixed methods implementation evaluation using document review, focus groups with program staff, students and employers, phone interviews, and surveys to triangulate findings.
  • The authors found the program was implemented as intended. Employers were engaged in the program providing input on the design, engaging with students on career readiness, and hiring graduates. Overall students, staff, and employers had positive perceptions of the program. Challenges in implementation included condensing the coursework, student retention and attendance, and difficulty keeping employer engagement high.
  • This was a well-structured and clearly written report, summarizing information on program implementation using a variety of qualitative data sources to answer the research questions and drawing in quantitative data when relevant. However, there was little discussion of quality assurance protocols and no description of how the authors selected samples for the focus groups. Only student completers were surveyed so the experiences of students who did not complete the program may have differed.
  • The embedded impact study was reviewed by CLEAR in May 2020.

Intervention Examined

The PluggedIn and WorkREADY! Program

Features of the Intervention

  • Type of organization: Community College
  • Location/setting: Richlands, Virginia
  • Population served/scale: TAA-eligible adults; Veterans; Un-and under-employed adults; Adults without a high school diploma; 251 participants
  • Industry focus: Manufacturing
  • Intervention activities: Developmental education; Student support services; Technology; Work-based learning
  • Organizational Partnerships: Employers
  • Cost: Not included
  • Fidelity: Not included

In October 2014, SWCC (located in Richlands, VA) was awarded a Round 4 TAACCCT grant from the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) to improve its PluggedIn and WorkREADY! six-month advanced manufacturing program. The intensive program was designed to build career skills for TAA-eligible adults, veterans, un- and under- employed adults, and adults without a high school diploma. The grant allowed the program to develop new courses in machining/ Computer numerical control (CNC) and mechatronics and re-design courses in carpentry and welding to meet Virginia industry demands. It also partially funded 11 positions at the college, including a program coach and a career and employment coach.

The program included industry-specific workforce skills training, career-focused courses for adult learners, tutoring, program and career coaches, and employer engagement in program planning and student support. The program also offered adult education classes in English and mathematics and professional development support to program participants. Students in the program were involved in applied learning experiences, worked with the same cohort of students, completed a Capstone project towards the end of the program, and were monitored and supported by program staff throughout the program using online databases. There were 251 program participants. The logic model details how the program activities are linked to program outputs and short-term outcomes, including subject matter and soft skills gains, leading to continued education, employment, and retention outcomes.

Features of the Study

The study was a mixed-method implementation evaluation using document review, focus groups with 31 program staff, 35 students and four employers, phone interviews with the program director, program coach, career and employment coach and the adult education lead, and three surveys: the Student Academic Experience Survey given to completers (115 of 153 responded), monthly surveys of the program coach and the career and employment coach (100% response rate), and the Program Personnel Implementation Survey, a survey of program personnel three times a year (86% response rate). Qualitative data was analyzed using qualitative induction methods to develop a preliminary set of findings that evaluators linked to other sources and indexed, ultimately triangulating findings from the data sources to refine the findings. Survey data was also analyzed.

Findings

Intervention activities/services

  • The study found that the program was implemented as intended, though some modifications were made to scheduling based on student feedback.
  • The study found that staff and employers collaborated on developing or modifying courses in mechatronics, carpentry, welding, and precision machining. Employers also provided input on the program design, engaged with students at career fairs, mock interviews, field trips, and hired program graduates.
  • The study found that students were tracked into PluggedIn or WorkREADY! based on their needs, educational experience, and test scores.
  • The study found that, overall, students, staff, and employers had positive perceptions of the program quality and students liked the full-time cohort model and reported high motivation to pursue careers in advanced manufacturing.

Implementation challenges and solutions:

  • The study found that challenges in implementation included condensing the coursework to six months, student retention and attendance, and difficulty keeping employer engagement high as the program went on. Additional challenges included recruiting methods that became less effective over time (e.g., postcards), communicating with employers (scheduling, staff turnover at the college, and lack of jobs in local economy made hiring difficult), and tracking student attendance.
  • The study found that to address student retention and participation challenges, the program implemented in-class quizzes and student supports to address barriers. To address scheduling challenges, the college offered both day and night classes.

Considerations for Interpreting the Findings

This was a well-structured and clearly written report, summarizing information on program implementation using a variety of qualitative data sources to answer the research questions and drawing in quantitative data when relevant. Although the report provided a good description of the analytic approach and the use of triangulation to reach conclusions, there was little discussion of quality assurance protocols and no description of how the samples for the focus groups were selected. Without detailed information on who was in the focus groups, sample sizes and selection strategies, and steps taken to ensure data quality, it was difficult to fully assess the reliability of the data. In addition, the survey of students was only given to students who completed the program so the experiences of students who did not complete the program may have differed from what is presented in the report. The instruments used to collect data were not provided, making it difficult to replicate the evaluation results based on this study. The authors also did not include a discussion of strengths and weaknesses of the evaluation. However, the authors did highlight both the positives and negatives of the program design, as well as successes and challenges in implementation.

Reviewed by CLEAR

August 2021

Topic Area