Do Something Awesome in 2018: Year in Review

From Alaska to Rhode Island, workforce development solutions are changing the lives of the Americans who make the leap and learn new skills. We documented their stories in 2018.

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Do Something Awesome collage of people and places.
The faces and places of our Do Something Awesome travels in 2018. Photos - Jonathan Barenboim.

The future of workforce development took our Do Something Awesome filmmakers to some unlikely locales in 2018. The mini-documentary series touched down in Alaska, Rhode Island and numerous states in between to chronicle the unique solutions happening at the ground level to improve the skills of the workforce.

The series from WorkingNation Executive Producer Melissa Panzer and Director Jonathan Barenboim featured a diverse slate of careers representing all skill levels. The uniting factor of each Do Something Awesome story is the need for talented people to take advantage of educational and training opportunities in the 21st century.

By chronicling the personal stories of the people who have made the decision to learn new skills or change careers, our filmmakers reveal the story of America. Our country is a place of self-reinvention and nowhere is that more apparent than the stories of workers adapting to changes in the labor market. We hope that you enjoy this retrospective collection of our videos from 2018 and use their solutions in your communities in the new year.

The Shift is Now: Aviation’s Race for Technicians – January

The aviation industry is racing to meet a January 1, 2020 deadline to modernize navigation and communication systems in all aircraft. But a widespread shortage of mechanics and technicians threatens to ground thousands of airplanes that cannot be upgraded in time. This is leading to companies like Dreamline Aviation to train new hires, like Issac Gonzalez, while on-the-job to accommodate the workload.

No Experience Required: Building a New Digital Workforce – January

A pathway to a well-paying tech career can be elusive for many people who simply do not see themselves in this workforce. Akamai is creating more opportunities for veterans, women and people of color through the Akamai Technical Academy. The six-month program trained Takara Larsen to become an entry-level developer despite her lack of digital skills. The in-house training solution is one way to increase diversity and close the talent gap in tech.

Today’s Teachers with Tomorrow’s Skills: NC3 Connects the Knowledge Network ­– February

The next generation of makers and engineers need expert instruction in the new technologies that are reshaping the advanced manufacturing industry. The National Coalition of Certification Centers ensures that this standardized training spreads to all NC3 partner schools through its Train-the-Trainer program. WSU-Tech’s Jeremy King is an NC3 master instructor who passes on his industry-aligned skills to other postsecondary career and technical education providers.

All Hands on Deck: Living the Dream with 7-Eleven Franchising – March

7-Eleven is one of the leading companies assisting military veterans in launching careers as franchise owners. Navy veteran Evelyn Scott planned her retirement from the service around owning a 7-Eleven store. When the company’s franchising wing began its Women’s Franchise Giveaway in 2016, Scott entered the contest and won her franchise-fee free store in Norfolk, Virginia. 7-Eleven Franchising worked closely with Scott as she transitioned from sailor to store owner.

Qualcomm Thinkabit Lab is Creating the Next Generation of Inventors – April

It is vital that young children see the world of STEM early on in their education. Qualcomm is using creative project-based learning to inspire middle school students to explore careers at the company and the tech industry with the Qualcomm® Thinkabit Lab™. Now it is exporting this educational model to other school districts and getting young makers like Luis Gomez of Porterville, California to invent their future.

Cracking the Code: IT-Ready Opens the Tech Industry Door – May

With more than two million openings in tech, companies are searching for new ways to scale up training opportunities and create a skilled workforce. Industry advocate CompTIA is addressing the need for entry-level workers through Creating IT Futures’ IT-Ready program. The program is a “crash course” in obtaining industry-recognized certifications from CompTIA. The program helped Greg Bartell transition out of a retail career with an eight-week program that taught him the digital skills to begin a new career in tech.

Educating from Experience: EnCorps Brings STEM Pros Back to School – May

California is home to the most tech jobs in the nation but a shrinking talent pool to fill the hundreds of thousands of available jobs in the state. A STEM teacher shortage in California threatens to limit the creation of homegrown talent. The EnCorps STEM Teachers Program seeks to reverse this trend by connecting industry professionals and retirees to second careers as teachers. The program places teachers in high-needs schools to bring valuable STEM skills to a diverse range of students.

Banking on Your Future: JVS BankWork$ Delivers Quality Workers for the Banking Industry – May

Even as technology changes the customer’s interaction with banks, the industry still needs entry-level workers to provide a new suite of customer-centric services. JVS BankWork$ and the national BankWork$ program are a proven solution for sourcing and training entry-level workers from underserved communities in a short amount of time. JVS BankWork$ graduates Jerry Walker and Janet Romero left behind underemployment and low-paying work to embark on their new banking careers.

The Right Fit: Century College Serves the Orthotics and Prosthetics Industry – June


An overlooked sector in the health care industry performs needed service for millions of amputees in the United States. However, the relative obscurity of Orthotics and Prosthetics means that people are not aware of the rewarding work technicians, practitioner assistants and clinical practitioners do. Century College in Minnesota is one of a handful of schools that offer this training and getting students like Amy Boutchee on a new career pathway.

Delta College Fast Start™ Programs Ensure Local Talent is Not for Export – June


The revival of manufacturing in Michigan has brought jobs back to the state. A skills gap is preventing companies from filling positions following the retirement of older workers. The Dow Chemical Company works with Great Lakes Bay Michigan Works! and Delta College for a 13-week training program to train chemical process operators for its manufacturing plants in Midland. The Fast Start™ program shows the power of public-private partnerships to create a regional workforce pipeline.

RELATED: Do Something Awesome in 2017: Year in Review

SkillsUSA Builds a Strong Foundation for the Workforce – August

Interest in the trades is rising thanks to the renaissance of career and technical education at our high schools and community colleges. SkillsUSA is the country’s first student organization for the trades and is part of the revival. SkillsUSA is instrumental in developing the technical and soft skills of secondary and postsecondary students and puts their skills to the test annually at its national conference. WorkingNation followed the Georgia Northwestern Technical College team as it showed off construction skills at the TeamWorks competition. The competitors’ story highlights how SkillsUSA is changing the narrative about vocational training.

Equality is Opportunity: INROADS Turns Dreams Into Reality – August

Equitable opportunities to corporate leadership must extend to underserved communities to build a diverse workforce. INROADS perpetuates founder Frank Carr’s message by connecting people of color to paid internship opportunities with Fortune 500 companies. Cornell student Arun Yangamurthy gained the valuable experience and knowledge that comes from working with multinational corporations Aldi and Procter & Gamble. For more than 40 years, INROADS has impacted thousands of lives and spearheaded meaningful culture changes across the C-suite.

Fishing for Talent: An Apprenticeship for the Future of Commercial Fishing – September

A sea change is underway in the commercial fishing industry as it adapts to the realities of an aging workforce and environmental regulations. The Commercial Fisherman Apprenticeship Program in Rhode Island is an example of a local industry taking charge of developing skilled workers. In 20 days, apprentices like Kameron Rebello get free real-world training before joining a crew.

Free to Succeed: The Last Mile Trains the Incarcerated to Become Coders – October

The formerly incarcerated face numerous barriers to re-entering society, namely an employment stigma that is attached to their criminal record. The Last Mile offers inmates a chance to redefine themselves as software programmers through an innovative self-contained training program. Launched in California and spreading to prisons in Indiana and Oklahoma, TLM is developing an untapped resource for high-tech jobs.

Salute to Skills: Workshops for Warriors and Hire Heroes USA – October


For the nearly quarter-million military service members who enter civilian life each year, having a great job can make the difference. Workshops for Warriors and Hire Heroes USA prepare veterans for civilian careers through technical training and professional development. Now they are combining their abilities to provide a holistic service that serves as a career pipeline for veterans to enter the advanced manufacturing industry.

Service With a Smile: Alaska’s Solution for America’s Dental Care Crisis – November

The role of Dental Health Aide Therapist is new in the United States but has been accepted around the world as a solution to improving access to dental care. Alaska Natives have led the change with the Alaska Dental Therapy Education Program which trains DHATs to live and work within their tribal communities. The program has contributed to the overall dental health of tribal communities by teaching DHATs to perform routine supervised services when dentists cannot.

Constructing a Career: HBI Turns Soldiers Into Skilled Trades Workers – November

Another program serving transitioning military is Home Builders Institute. HBI and its corporate partner, The Home Depot, support a construction training program that trains soldiers and sailors before they exit the military. This on-base training allowed Army veteran John Pomelow to add to his skill set as he starts a new life for himself and his family. The program takes advantage of veterans’ skills and sets them up for success with their future employers.

A Talent for Teaching: UTeach Reveals a Pathway for STEM Majors – December


Inspiring college STEM majors to consider their future in teaching is the goal of UTeach. The program has spread to 21 other states outside of Texas as a practical solution to certifying skilled STEM teachers. UTeach participants Garrett Mott and Kira Lowery discovered their passion for teaching through the program’s no-pressure introduction to the profession. They, along with fellow UTeach students, are the vital link between young kids and the jobs of the future.

The new year will bring the final Do Something Awesome mini-documentary as the series takes a hiatus in 2019. With our new video series I Want That Job and our reporting, WorkingNation will continue to tell the stories of innovative training programs that are creating a workforce with future-proof skills.

The programs, people and employers who have committed to reshaping the workforce are part of a larger narrative about the changing nature of work in the United States. We hope that Do Something Awesome illuminated the solutions that are working and contributed to the ongoing conversation about jobs and skills.

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