Building PA Podcast: Season 1 – Episode 3: Evolve’s Workforce Development Efforts in Harrisburg

NOTE: This episode of the Building PA Podcast focuses on workforce development efforts in the City of Harrisburg by a company called Evolve. Unfortunately schools like Harrisburg School District turned their backs teaching its students hands-on trades and places like the Dauphin County Vo-Tech were bursting at the seams. Our region is lucky to have organizations like Evolve who take it upon themselves to guide youth towards the trades. Here is a transcript of our conversation with Evolve founder and president Patricia Robinson. To hear the entire episode visit: Building PA Podcast Season 1 – Episode 3.

Jon O’Brien (00:00):

Hello, and welcome to another episode of Building Pennsylvania. My name is Jon O’Brien and I’m from the Keystone Contractors Association.

Chris Martin:

And this is Chris Martin with Atlas Marketing.

Jon O’Brien:

Hey, Chris, hope you’re ready for today. We’re going to talk some more workforce development. Hope that’s okay with you. I can’t wait. And I understand that we’ve got a great, a great person joining us to talk about that and absolutely. Yeah. We have a Patricia Robinson, the founder and owner of Evolve Training. Patricia is calling in from Harrisburg, I believe. Yeah. So welcome. Welcome to the podcast.

Patricia Robinson (00:43):

Thank you. Thank you for inviting me.

Jon O’Brien (00:45):

Yeah. So before we dive in and we focus on your efforts in workforce development, why don’t you let our listeners know who is Patricia and what is Evolve?

Patricia Robinson (00:56):

Well again, my name is Patricia Robinson and Evolve Training & Development is a training company. We focus primarily on personal development and professional development. And we’ve now moved into some other areas of development in terms of the trades. And we’re working with young people to help them develop a pipeline for students that are in middle school to high school age to be able to get into an apprenticeship program, or at least getting to a trades program that meets their skillset.

Jon O’Brien (01:37):

Now this day and age, it seems like workforce development is the big buzz word. Everyone wants to talk about it, whether it’s in the media, legislators, school boards, everyone’s talking workforce development. I can honestly say, even though I’ve known you a short time, a few months here, you talk the talk and you walk the walk, many people just throw that word out there. And, you know, for starters, before we jump into this interview, I just want to commend you for your efforts and keep it up. The industry needs this.

Patricia Robinson (02:09):

Thank you. Thank you. I truly appreciate that. Thank you so much.

Jon O’Brien (02:12):

Yeah. Do you want to just talk about the program for a little like the various trades that you that you handle?

Patricia Robinson (02:18):

Yes. Yes. We focus on primarily right now on three trades and those trades will be carpentry, plumbing, and electrical. We’re going to be moving in to other areas of three other areas, which will be HVAC, welding and possibly graphic design. But our main focus right now is carpentry, plumbing, and electrical. We are, we’re doing a six week program. That’s just how the program started by just looking at students who were not interested in going to a four year college and just didn’t know where they were going into, but asking the question, what am I going to do next? When I get out of high school, or even as young as middle school asking the question, like, what am I going to do? I really don’t want to go to a four year school. So I don’t know what direction I’m going.

Patricia Robinson (03:12):

And so we developed this program to start with middle school age, because that is the key. And I think the key point and getting them to recognize what they could be good at an early age versus waiting until they’re in high school. When they always already formulated in an ideal what they want to do or what they don’t want to do. And primarily it’s the latter. They don’t want to do it. They may not want to go to college, but they just still don’t know where they want to do. So we try to give them options. And these options are only mainly focused to low income students that are in an economic poverty in terms of just don’t have the resources to go to a school. But we want to provide them with some training skills that will help them identify a trade. That may be something that they will become passionate and doing, and then turn out to be a career, a lifetime career, and they be able to sustain themselves and their families for a long time? And so we start at middle school age because again, I think that is the beginning of really developing their minds and giving them direction versus starting at high school age.

Chris Martin (04:28):

That sounds exciting! Sounds like a really good stuff you got going on there. You mentioned carpentry and I believe you’ve presented the program to the carpenter’s union. Did they have any feedback for you? Any suggestions?

Patricia Robinson (04:42):

Yes, I’m working hand in hand with them. I was able to help them recruit a young lady into their program and she just graduated from their program. So what we’re trying to do is kind of work together and working at looking at our curriculum and their curriculum and combining some things together. And hopefully we will be able to collaborate on our efforts in terms of getting more students, whether it be diversified or just students into the program, because there’s a lack and there’s a shortage not just in this area, but across the United States and tradesmen. And so we want to identify those early so that we can start putting them in the places that fits them the best.

Jon O’Brien (05:28):

Patricia, you mentioned grabbing the students at an early age. Can you talk a little bit about, you know, like, are there mentor opportunities to help the students at that age. I have a middle school daughter, and I’m just trying to think of how to help her get to the point of knowing what she wants to do. And then the other side of that too…

Chris Martin (05:58):

Parents involved like help our listeners understand what kind of helps to bring that middle school age student along?

Patricia Robinson (06:08):

One of the things that we offer in our program is a mentoring program. So we just don’t train them, teach them the trade, but we also use that opportunity to walk hand in hand with them and try to develop not only their professional skillset, but their personal. So we identify areas like low self esteem. We also talk about entrepreneurship. We talk about communication skills. A lot of the kids that are going into the workforce don’t have good communication skills or also they don’t have good word work ethics. So we talked to them about how to really dive into a career choice, but not just a profession, but you also need those soft skills to help you continue to grow. And so we have mentors that are going to be side by side with these students to help them with financial literacy, because you really need to know how to manage and budget in the trades.

Patricia Robinson (07:06):

Primarily because they’re going to be times where you may not be working. This is the season where a lot of carpenters or plumbers, or, you know, if they, they may not have a job to go to. So we want to make sure that in the good season that they’re putting away, they’re saving for those months where they may not have a steady income. So we’re wanting to show them how to budget, how to manage their finances. That’s so important. And those are the skills that are not getting taught in middle school and they’re barely getting them in high school.

Chris Martin (07:37):

Excellent. Those life skills are needed throughout every industry. So that’s awesome. You mentioned middle school and high school. Are there are there certain school districts that you partner with or work with or do they support you? There’s certain schools help you out at all?

Patricia Robinson (07:54):

We are currently working with Steelton Highspire in Harrisburg. That is a small district and they actually have their middle school and their high school combined into one building. So we have been afforded the opportunities starting in January to do a pilot program around Evolve. We’ll be going in there three days a week for two hours the last three periods of their day and talking to them and working with them and training them on the trades. And so it was an elective for these students. So they are electing to choose this program. And we right now have about 60 students that will be starting in the new year, learning the trade. And no two trades that we’re introducing to them in the beginning is electrical and carpentry. As we grow in the next two years, we’re going to be adding on more of those trades because we have partnership with them for at least three years.

Patricia Robinson (08:55):

We are trying to also talk to the Harrisburg School District so that we can bring the trades back to their students. We have also had the opportunity to speak with cyber school, which is a school for students that choose to do their work on a on the computer. They want to talk to us about possibly coming in and teaching the trades to their cyber school students. So they have the opportunity as well. So in the year 2020, we’re looking to work at least with two other entities that want us to come in and train their students on the trades.

Jon O’Brien (09:33):

That sounds like 2020 is going to be a great year for Evolve and all those students that’s amazing. That’s awesome. Hey, one other question for you, knowing our understanding that you’re working with younger students and even the high school age students, what is your typical student like when they come to you? what’s the biggest skill that they have and that you find that they need?

Patricia Robinson (10:05):

Are you referring to the trades or just in general. Just in general, that will be communication. They have, most of the kids are coming with, they don’t know how to be effective in conversation. They don’t know how to handle their emotions. Right. Those are some key things that we have to work on, especially the emotional part get receiving instruction and receiving constructive criticism, those types of things, and then just their attention span because they are now in the computer day and age where kids are focused on the computer. It doesn’t talk back to them unless they require it to talk back. So they don’t know how to have a conversation. So we need to start training our kids on how to detach themselves from their cell phones, from technology, and really communicate one-on-one and build relationships so that they can be successful in whatever field or choice of career they go into.

Chris Martin (11:14):

Right. And it’s funny cause I have daughters that are in the age group that you’re focusing on and I tell them all the time, if you can’t have a conversation with me, you’re not gonna make it too far. And that ability to communicate. So I’m really glad to hear that you’re focusing on that as the first step before you even teach them the carpentry skills or the electrical skills, because that relationship, like you said, is so important to their individual growth. So fantastic to you, hats off to you for that.

Patricia Robinson (11:49):

Yeah. I really think that’s important. And it’s the key to, if you can be confident in yourself and, and the other pieces is if the self image, cause a lot of our kids really don’t know who they are and can’t identify themselves with what they should be doing, because they’re confused. They don’t know what direction to go in and often times some kids are thrown out and saying, you need to do X, Y, and Z, and they’re not given the right tools to be able to do it. So you’re not giving them the tools, how you expect them to be successful, avid added if they was never introduced to it. So I think that’s where we’re expecting them to be adults after they turn 18 and that’s not the case, so we’re doing them a disservice by not giving that skillset. And just thinking that they’re learning it at home and that’s not always the case.

Chris Martin (12:40):

That is so true. One other question I have for you, and as far as that communication skill, are you seeing that the students are getting into the building trades and are actually seeing that element of communications being applied in any way, shape or form?

Patricia Robinson (13:08):

Yes. Yes. I had the opportunity to speak with a one of the representatives from a company, a huge company in Harrisburg. I’m going to plug, or HB McClure. They were doing it at an expo both here in Harrisburg and some of my students were part of that career day. And they were so surprised at the knowledge. Some of the young ladies came to their booth and we’re talking about plumbing and putting things together. And they were so articulate in terms of what, where they got the full set from and how did they learn it? And so HB McClure reached out to me and said they were just amazed at my students wanting to know more about the program. So just being able to go into an atmosphere where they are, what’s unknown to them, but let’s pick something that’s familiar to them and be able to articulate what they learned was a huge, huge plus for those students because they have evolved. And I really was happy to hear that they were able to articulate.

Jon O’Brien (14:15):

Again, congratulations to you and the whole evolve team, because that’s a big element. And to see it actually in places is big. So congratulations for that.

Jon O’Brien (14:26):

You’re obviously only one person. So, you said you can’t teach everyone. Are there instructors on your team? And is that a challenge? Do you need more help from the industry?

Patricia Robinson (14:38):

Yes. it is a challenge and yes, I need more help on the on the team right now. I can’t say I’m a one woman team cause I do have some support system. Now we have about six tradesmen that are currently there working right now on a volunteer basis. Starting in January, they’ll be getting a stipend for working within the school district with me, along with me, I’ll be teaching the soft skills and they’ll be teaching the trades. I will also be helping with the trades because I’ve been doing it for a year now and I’ve learned a lot that I didn’t think I would be interested in, but I’m truly loving carpentry. I’m really loving working with wood. So yes, we do still need tradesmen, because again, we are going into different areas where I’m asked to help support other students in different areas.

Patricia Robinson (15:34):

So I want to be able to build a team of tradesmen that will be able to accommodate our growth. And so yes, I do need tradesmen and I’m getting tired, so I’m feeling strict, but I’m enjoying it because I’m seeing it making a difference. And I know that it’s going to make a difference and I want to change the story, the narrative that trades is at the bottom of the barrel in terms of career choices. It is not, it’s a thriving industry and not only that, it’s a skill set that will never go away. You will always be able to use it. And you will always be employed whether you’re self-employed or you go work with someone. So it is definitely something that we want to start talking to our kids more about in the schools and less about nothing wrong with a four year college degree, but everybody is not cut out for that. And everybody is not interested in that. And not only that the trades provides you with debt-free, if you choose to,

Chris Martin (16:35):

Well, it sounds like you have an awesome thing. I’ve yet to come to one of your sessions or meet some students. And that’s one of my 2020 goals to do that, to get more involved and help you out as needed. But for others that are listening if they feel inclined to help out or get in touch or to learn more about the program, is there a good contact information we could share?

Patricia Robinson (16:57):

Oh yeah. Yes. They can contact me on my website, which is www.evolvetraininganddevelopment.com. They also can reach out to me on Facebook, it’s under evolve, training and development, or my personal link, which is Patricia Robinson. My email address is Tris Robinson10@gmail.com. That’s Trish, T R I S H Robinson ten@gmail.com. And also my they can reach me at the office, which is (717) 608-2315.

Chris Martin (17:39):

Awesome. And we’ll make sure to get that information out as well as we promote this podcast. And you can tell you’ve done that before. You’ve got that down. Pretty good.

Patricia Robinson (17:51):

I’ve been speaking frequently lately. So yes, I’ve got it down. I mean, I can talk about it as much as I can and get it out as much as I can, but be able to effectively do it is important. So thank you for this opportunity to allow me on to share about the training program and what evolve is doing and how we are evolving in the community. I think it’s so important to have the opportunity. And so I appreciate you having me on today.

Jon O’Brien (18:19):

I’m glad we could do it. And maybe we could check back every few months and maybe talk to you and a student and then get their feedback.

Patricia Robinson (18:26):

That’d be great. That’d be awesome. Yes, that would be great. That would be great.

Chris Martin (18:30):

Well, Patricia, thank you for your time today. It has been very, very helpful and very insightful. And as your company evolves, no pun intended, I’m sure they’ll keep growing and doing all the things that you’re helping with young, young people learn our industry.

Patricia Robinson (18:50):

You’re welcome. Thank you. Thank you. Keep up the great work. Thank you, Chris. And same to you, Jon.

Author: buildingpa

I am the proud father of three amazing daughters and I'm married to an awesome lady. When I'm not hanging with the family, I'm the executive director for the Keystone Contractors Association.

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