RMCEP Celebrates 50 Years
Friday, August 03, 2018
It’s rare for a nonprofit organization to survive for more than a couple of decades. Those with staying power seem to have a few characteristics in common.
First, such organizations can clearly demonstrate their impact. Secondly, they’re forward thinking and adaptable to social or political change. Finally, they have strong leadership and a dedicated staff.
This year, Rural Minnesota Concentrated Employment Program (RMCEP) is celebrating a major milestone — its 50th year. Over the last half century, the nonprofit has been a leader in workforce development.
RMCEP provides services to residents of 19 counties in Northwestern Minnesota and has workforce centers in Alexandria, Bemidji, Brainerd, Detroit Lakes, Fergus Falls, Little Falls, Moorhead and Wadena.
It was founded in 1968 as a result of the Economic Opportunity Act and Manpower Development and Training Act. Federal, state and county governments fund RMCEP.
RMCEP’s mission has long been the same: to help people become self-sufficient. Throughout the years, the nonprofit has taken many different pathways in order to achieve this goal, due to changing times and legislation.
Executive Director Dan Wenner has been with RMCEP for 30 years. He says the hallmark of its operating philosophy comes down to three Rs: respect, resilience and responsiveness.
“We have respect for the customers we serve. We’re resilient and we’ve managed to adapt over the years,” he explains. “Also, we’re responsive to the needs of businesses, job seekers and the funding sources that provide us with support.”
Impact & Adaptability
Wenner points out that workforce development services are important for both individuals and the larger society. “Work is actually key to a successful life for people. Good workers are key to the success of businesses, which contribute to the success of local and regional economies,” he says.
Early on, RMCEP was able to demonstrate its impact. With the advent of the Comprehensive Employment and Training Act (CETA) in 1973, it was one of only six CEPs in the country allowed to continue its work.
In fact, a Department of Labor assessment of all CEPs nationwide ranked RMCEP first in terms of its performance at that time. These CEPs were grandfathered into subsequent legislation based on the effectiveness of their programming and the challenges associated with serving their geographic populations.
Over the years, services have adapted and expanded to changing times and policies. Through it all, RMCEP has shown exemplary performance.
“Performance is what kept us around when the legislation changed,” says Wenner. “Part of our culture is that we strive to be an exceeds agency — to not just meet but to exceed performance standards.
RMCEP has developed the expertise to work with wide range of clients, including youth, seniors, those with disabilities and historically underrepresented groups. It strives to serve everyone and make sure all people can achieve equal opportunities in the workplace.
Innovation & Dedication
During its tenure, RMCEP has developed a great deal of flexibility. This has allowed the nonprofit to adapt and innovate in response to changing legislation. Initially, CETA prioritized job placement and focused on bringing people’s incomes up.
“We employed lot of people. We put them to work in cities and counties,” says Wenner.
When CETA was amended, focus shifted to working with the private sector to train people for specific jobs. Wenner notes that RMCEP made that transition very successfully and works well with private businesses.
During the Great Recession, when RMCEP received funding to help retrain people, it adapted yet again. The many people it trained are contributing to the economy today, according to Wenner.
Currently, the nonprofit is helping to address the current skill shortage by helping dislocated workers and those with disabilities find jobs and access necessary training. It’s also providing innovative career advising services to high school students, helping them make more informed career choices and making sure they have a plan upon graduation.
RMCEP is adept at working with partners. For instance, it collaborates with counties to help people transition from public assistance to work. It offers people training and helps them learn soft skills or whatever it is they need to succeed in the workplace.
Wenner says RMCEP’s future looks bright. It’s well versed at adapting and innovating. It’s continuing to develop regional partnerships with businesses, economic development agencies, higher education institutions and other nonprofits.
Wenner points out that none of what RMCEP has accomplished would be possible without the help of its dedicated and passionate staff. “They’re really committed to making this work and getting people to work. Without that commitment, none of this would have happened,” he says. “Frankly, it’s more than job. It’s a calling.”
RMCEP kicked off its anniversary celebration with a staff conference in June. This fall, it will hold open houses at each of its eight offices to mark the occasion.