What is left to do when a workforce isn’t ready, but to create a ready workforce?
That’s just what Cook Group is doing with its new education program, My Cook Pathway. Cook hopes to address a deficit in qualified workers that exists because of the more than 5,000 adults in Monroe County who do not have the equivalent of a high school education. Part recruiting, part investment strategy and part self-improvement opportunity for the men and women who participate, the program benefits unemployed or underemployed individuals who have not finished their high school education.
“I don’t want to be the person that’s stuck in one place,” said Nycole Cowens, a recent graduate of the program. “I want to always do better.”
Cook has graduated three classes with a 60 percent completion rate since the program started in June 2016. All of the program’s 17 successful graduates have since taken up full-time positions as assemblers, inspectors or warehouse associates in Cook’s production, quality control, packaging and warehouse departments.
Before graduating from the program, the company’s cafeteria meant something different to Cowens and the nine other members of this most recent My Cook Pathway cycle. It’s where they worked 28 hours part time before attending 10 hours of classes every week. For most, it’s a seven-week program that divides their time between working at Cook and studying for Indiana High School Equivalency Diploma assessment tests at Ivy Tech Community College.
Now, the cafeteria at Cook is a place for respite and recovery from a full-time, hourly position that includes Cook’s full benefits package — company paid life insurance, vacation time, medical insurance options, a quarterly bonus and more. Employees start at $10.20 per hour.
“I think it’s critical, as a company and as a community, we do everything that we can to support people who want to go down the pathway of continuing their education,” Pete Yonkman, president of Cook Medical and Cook Group, said at the program’s announcement last year. “At Cook, we know that we’re going to retain and attract thousands of employees right here if we’re going to be successful. So for us, as we look forward, we know that it’s going to be critical that we have a highly trained, highly educated workforce right here in Indiana.”