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Joachim Borha of Olive-Harvey College: From Classroom to Community Impact



Joachim Borha

Director of Grant Administration

Olive-Harvey College


At Olive-Harvey College, Joachim Borha, the Director of Grant Administration, stands as a testament to the transformative power of dedication and vision. Steering initiatives like the Good Jobs Challenge and the Rev Up Grant, Joachim reflects the ambitions of the students he serves. His approach to leadership goes beyond mere administration; it's about creating a pathway for mutual recognition and aspiration. Through his work, students see a model for their potential achievements, and Joachim sees the tangible results of his contributions in their progress. This connection has created an environment where education is not just a process but a shared journey towards impactful and innovative careers.



What is your role at Olive-Harvey College?


I'm the Director of Grants Administration at Olive-Harvey College, primarily managing the Good Jobs Challenge Grant. This involves coordinating funding for employer partners, community organizations, and training providers. While my main focus is on this grant, I also work on other projects, including the Rev Up Grant, which centers on electric vehicles. My role on that initiative includes developing curriculum, organizing lab spaces, and connecting with employer partners.


Tell me about your career progression.


I started my career as a teacher, which was demanding but deeply fulfilling. My path then took me through various nonprofits, including Introspect Youth Services and the YWCA, culminating in my role at the YWCA's TDL Sector Center. 

TDL stands for Transportation, Distribution, and Logistics. The term is used to refer to the industry that plans and executes the management and distribution of goods.

There, I focused on developing relationships with businesses and matching clients with transportation and logistics jobs. My experiences in TDL and education have brought me here to Olive-Harvey.


Who have been your primary mentors in progressing in your career?


My primary mentor has been Bernard Clay, Executive Director of Introspect Youth Services. Working with a Black man in executive leadership was especially refreshing and enlightening. He emphasized attention to detail and exceeding goals, and taught me that success often lies in the finer points. His mentorship not only advanced my career, but it also shaped my personal growth.


Tell me what it's like to work at Olive-Harvey. What makes it special or unique?


Olive-Harvey stands out because it is a minority-serving institution, meaning that the community at our college reflects diverse backgrounds. This amplifies our impact.

At Olive-Harvey, our collaboration with employers, especially through initiatives like the Good Jobs Challenge, focuses on making real connections between education and employment opportunities.

For example, I recently connected with a student who is Nigerian like myself, and this experience highlighted how important it is for students to see leaders who look like them or share similar backgrounds. While my role isn't directly student-facing, my presence and interactions reveal new possibilities and pathways, such as careers in workforce development, that they hadn't considered. This aspect of representation and mentorship is what truly distinguishes Olive-Harvey.


What is Olive-Harvey hoping to achieve in the next few years?


Olive-Harvey is setting its sights on innovative projects, including establishing an operational electric vehicle (EV) charging station on campus. This initiative is part of the broader Rev Up Community College Initiative Grant aimed at reimagining electric vehicles and requires a collaborative effort involving partnerships, specialized programming, and consultant expertise to develop a comprehensive curriculum. We're also working closely with the IBEW (International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers), which is instrumental in deploying charging stations nationwide. 


By 2030, Olive-Harvey aims to significantly reduce fuel emissions, positioning itself as a leading institution in environmental sustainability and technological advancement. Beyond this EV initiative, Olive-Harvey is teeming with exciting programs like cybersecurity, agricultural sciences, and even a trending cannabis program. We're all about embracing innovation and keeping pace with the changing world, making education as relevant and impactful as possible.


What significant challenges is Olive-Harvey facing at this moment?


Right now, Olive-Harvey is grappling with the challenge of engaging and retaining students, specifically aged 18 to 22. While we excel with older students, who complete programs like diesel technician, aviation tech, and supply chain management, capturing the interest of younger students fresh out of high school is tougher. 



The shift to more practical, hands-on learning could be a game-changer. Imagine getting to work on a diesel engine or rivet airplane wings during a campus visit – that's the kind of experience we believe could hook these younger learners. I can remember my own excitement at learning practical skills like cable management in radio and TV classes, and I can see the potential for this approach to make education more appealing. 


Can you describe your partnership with employers? What are the benefits to them of engaging with Olive-Harvey?


At Olive-Harvey, our collaboration with employers, especially through initiatives like the Good Jobs Challenge, focuses on making real connections between education and employment opportunities. We customize training sessions for specific industry needs, working with companies like AAR in aviation to design programs that lead directly to careers with growth potential. These programs cover everything from aviation technology to logistics, ensuring our students are equipped with the right skills and certifications. Students can even complete a forklift certification in four days! 


Additionally, our partnership with local employers, such as Method Soap and Whole Foods, involves creating tailored training that prepares our graduates to be standout candidates from the start. By choosing to work with us, employers gain access to a prepared, skilled workforce ready to make an immediate impact.


What are some common challenges that employers come to you with? 


Employers come to us with a variety of challenges. Some need help keeping workers, while others face issues with their teams' skill levels. This all prompts the need for customized training. 

A partnership thrives on mutual contribution and understanding; it lays out what each side brings to the table and expects in return.

A unique concern we often encounter is the lack of soft skills, like job readiness and professional behavior—knowing not to chew gum while operating machinery, for example. A partner of ours once mentioned they'd offer more internships if candidates had better communication and interviewing skills. 


Our students also come from diverse backgrounds, including those touched by the criminal justice system or from challenged neighborhoods. Our aim is to equip them with essential life skills, like negotiation and conflict resolution, but obstacles like transportation and childcare often stand in their way. Luckily, programs like the Good Jobs Challenge offer support for many of these barriers.


How should an employer start working with you?


Getting started with us varies based on what an employer needs. First, we recommend a needs assessment to pinpoint specific requirements, whether it's employee training for skills like CDL, certifications, or soft skills enhancement. The key is understanding what you need and how we can mutually benefit. Partnerships are a two-way street; we expect our students to receive fair chances for interviews, not just selection from a pool. 


Employers might also seek funding, and we can link them to resources like the Good Jobs Challenge or WIOA funding. For example, AAR and Rivian have utilized our facilities for specific training programs; this showcases the variety of ways we can support employer needs. Ultimately, it's about identifying the gaps in your operations and how we can assist in bridging those gaps.


What kind of time commitment do you find is necessary to begin a successful partnership?


Initiating a successful partnership often starts with navigating through administrative details in the first year and potentially discussing any financial exchanges. The key is to establish a clear, well-thought-out plan from the get-go. Having a strategic approach is key, as coming to the table without a defined process or policy can lead to complications. 


Effective partnerships must also benefit both parties, focusing on mutual goals rather than one-sided expectations. Whether an employer needs student workers or seeks more intricate collaboration, open and thorough discussion ensures our efforts align with Olive-Harvey's mission. A partnership thrives on mutual contribution and understanding; it lays out what each side brings to the table and expects in return.


What is a success story you would like to share from your work?


I have two stories. The first is about Jamurai. I met him during my first week on the job. Jamurai, charismatic and about to graduate in Supply Chain Management, left a strong impression. A couple of months later, needing a contact at Pepsi, I was directed to Jamurai, who was then working the overnight shift. When we reconnected at a networking event, he shared that he had quickly risen to a management role within Pepsi after leveraging the internship he started through Olive-Harvey's partnership. In less than a year, he went from intern to managing a team, a testament to the impactful connections we foster. 

If your aim is to place our students in fulfilling jobs, then partnering with us is a natural fit

The second story involves Paris, who enrolled in our sheet metal class aimed at aviation maintenance. Facing challenges, especially with the math component, Olive-Harvey provided tutors to support students like Paris. With this help, he not only completed the sheet metal program but also earned his airframe and powerplant certification, eventually landing a job with an aircraft manufacturer. When it comes down to it, following our guided career paths offers support and opportunities. This rings particularly true for students seeking immediate earnings through programs like our sheet metal class and internships, where you can earn while you learn.


What results are Olive-Harvey’s employer partnerships achieving? 


We actively track our graduates' job placements to make sure they secure roles that align with their fields of study and tackle any employment gaps head-on. This tracking is important because we need to report these outcomes back to the district – a requirement closely tied to our funding. Employers contribute by providing updates on how our trained graduates are performing, data that is essential for our grant reporting. 


We're also continuously updating our training to keep pace with evolving industries, like electric vehicle technology. We want to ensure it meets current industry standards. Our detailed reports span grant program participation, tuition assistance, and course success rates. These efforts aim to improve job placements, boost student retention, and adjust class sizes to meet our college leadership's goals and maintain clear, accountable communication with the district.


What are some common traits or practices shared among your most successful employer partners?


Our best employer partners are mission-driven, communicative, ambitious, creative, and responsive. They prioritize their mission beyond just profits and treat employees as people first. We look for partners who understand the importance of equitable pay and workplace conditions. Being responsive is key too; when we reach out, quick replies are important, especially when we’re working with grants needing immediate commitments. Examples of great partnerships we’ve had are with Pepsi, AAR, and Rivian. They not only utilize our graduates well but also support their learning and growth. They offer them opportunities that would otherwise be costly. These employers treat our students as individuals, not products.


If an employer reading this walks away with one thing, what do you hope it will be?


I'd like employers to know that we're here to work with you. First and foremost, we aim for our students to integrate seamlessly into your company and help you reach your goals. Looking ahead to your long-term ambitions, we want Olive-Harvey to be at the table with you – we want to contribute to achieving your objectives. 


It’s hard to find a company that couldn’t benefit from the skilled labor our Olive-Harvey students provide. Our message is clear: we're here for you, ready to develop programs that address your specific needs. Customizing training for you is something we do well. If your aim is to place our students in fulfilling jobs, then partnering with us is a natural fit. 





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