‘Earn and Learn’

Rodney Johnson, 19, didn’t even know what HVAC was before his high school career counselor suggested he apply to the Tulane Cowen Institute’s Earn and Learn Career Pathways program after graduation. Following his hands-on apprenticeship with Tulane Facilities Services, Johnson landed a full-time job at Tulane as a heating, ventilation and air conditioning technician and plans to one day own his own company.

“Without Earn and Learn,” Johnson said, “I don’t know where I would be.”

Johnson is among a group of young people called “opportunity youth.” Often, they hold low-wage jobs with little chance for advancement. They may have experience with the juvenile justice system or unstable living and transportation conditions, which handicaps their ability to hold a job.

The goal of the Earn and Learn program is to change that track. The program is open to young people in New Orleans between the ages of 18 and 24 who have earned a high school diploma and are looking to advance their careers.

Celebrating its fifth anniversary, Earn and Learn was developed from job market projections specific to New Orleans and is one of only a handful of its kind in the country.

picture of Rodney johnson
Rodney Johnson (Photo by Paula Burch-Celentano)

The program works with employers in the facilities management, hospitality and construction sectors to meet regional workforce demands.

Gallo Mechanical LLC, a family-owned mechanical construction firm, was having difficulty retaining entry-level workers and transitioning them to become union apprentices. Now, as an Earn and Learn program partner, Gallo screens and hires applicants, eventually working to get them into the Local 60 Steam and Pipefitters Union.

“We are committed to reinvesting in our community and its people,” said Gallo’s director of special projects, Maria Pote. “We know that if we provide the training and the targeted support that these young people need, they can develop lifelong skills for supporting their families.”

Cowen Institute Deputy Director Amy Barad, the program’s founder, said Gallo’s president, Tulane alum J.P. Hymel (E ’96), immediately understood Earn and Learn’s value proposition: to help ensure a reliable pipeline of talent in the skilled crafts industry.

“Hard work, a good attitude and a willingness to keep learning are tools that ensure continued success and a bright future,” said Hymel.

Earn and Learn staff serve as on-the-job coaches to provide companies like Gallo with hands-on resources to support their apprentices.

Apprentices receive individualized life coaching — wraparound case management, college and career counseling, and transportation and childcare support — that helps provide the motivation needed to forge long-term, sustainable career pathways that contribute to financial prosperity. 

Earn and Learn participants dedicate at least 28 hours a week over six months to the program, with the majority of the time working in paid apprenticeships with employers such as Tulane Facilities Services, Gallo Mechanical, Hilton Riverside Hotel and Brennan’s Restaurant. Participants also log several hours of classroom time, which includes academic, technical and social-emotional coursework.

To learn more about the Earn and Learn Career Pathways Program, visit coweninstitute.org.