The U.S. Economic Development Agency last week awarded $500 million in grants to colleges, employers, and state and regional agencies to work together to solve local challenges around job training. The 32 awardees come from a cross-section of the United States—and all had a focus on reaching residents and geographic regions that have not traditionally been well-served by higher education.
“This is the first-ever Commerce Department initiative where we are totally focused on job training,” Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo said at an event announcing the awards. “That’s what this is about—real jobs, family-sustaining jobs that everybody can get.”
The awards underscore the Biden administration’s focus on equity and expanding access to high-quality jobs as it directs money to economic recovery and longer-term growth. Successful partnerships had a focus on:
- Traditionally underserved populations, including women and people of color.
- Geographic areas that have been systematically, or systemically, denied full participation in the country’s economic prosperity.
- Wraparound supports, such as counseling, coaching, and childcare, that help workers access and complete training.
The training projects also were required to be industry-led or have deep employer buy-in, including hiring commitments.
- In Greensboro, North Carolina, for example, 40 employers—including Enviva, Siemens, and Duke Energy—have committed to hiring 3,000 workers trained in clean energy over the next four years by N.C. A&T State University.
- The program will use mobile training units to serve 16 economically distressed counties in the state, delivering hands-on training where workers are, rather than asking them to come to a campus.
“Employer led, community driven, and worker centered—those three pieces are really key to the DNA of the initiative,” said Lauren Starks, program lead for the Good Jobs Challenge.
Working across education, workforce, and industry
The awards cover 31 states and Puerto Rico and will fund new or expanded training for 15 key industries—including agriculture and food production, energy and resilience, healthcare, manufacturing and information technology. They are expected to lead to 50,000 new placements in high-quality jobs.
JFF will provide technical assistance to the awardees and coordinate a “community of practice” to share best practices and extend networks.
Who’s at the table: Industry associations, local governments and development organizations, and colleges are all leads on various projects—and employers were required to have a major role in every project.
Several initiatives are being led by nonprofit intermediaries, including Philadelphia Works and Apprenti, whose proposals received some of the largest grants. Apprenti, a nonprofit specializing in tech apprenticeships, got $23.5 million to help 11 regions across the country develop and diversify their local technology workforce.
- Boeing and Amazon Web Services have both signed onto the effort—with AWS committing to hire 300 apprentices in cloud computing over the next three years and to work within its network to place another 700 at partner companies like Robert Half and Infosys.
Across the grantees, there’s a focus on apprenticeships and other earn-and-learn models, which get people into jobs while they are still in training.
- The Ohio Manufacturers’ Association, for example, will use its grant to dramatically expand an existing earn-and-learn program for advanced manufacturing—serving more than 1,000 employers and 6,000 trainees across the state. The expansion will focus on bringing more women, people of color, and people from Appalachian coal communities into the industry.
Job placement during training wasn’t a requirement, but Starks said that was one way that applicants could demonstrate employer buy-in.
“A key focus of good jobs is demand and being employer-driven,” she said. “We really wanted them to articulate the employer demand, and that included paid apprenticeships and earn-and-learn.”
The Economic Development Agency also was looking for applicants who were committed to providing wrap-around supports—like childcare and transportation—to address barriers people often face when trying to access training. That means training providers must closely coordinate with organizations that provide those services and are embedded in communities where people need increased access to good jobs.
- Dallas College, for example, plans to hire a case manager to assist learners in accessing wrap-around supports that are available on campus or in the local community but often hard to find.
The college’s $8.8 million grant will help it train 800 residents for entry-level biotech jobs that pay at least $15 an hour and include healthcare, retirement, and other employee benefits. Employers—including Children’s Health Medical Center, McKesson Corporation, and UT Southwestern Medical Center—have already committed to hire 1,100 trainees, more than Dallas College and its training partners expect to be able to produce.
By leveraging existing support services and adapting a skills-based training curriculum developed by the United Way of Metropolitan Dallas, the college plans to keep the training cost to $3,500 per participant.
Elsewhere, other community colleges—including Illinois Central College and the Foundation for California Community Colleges—will serve as the hub for organizing community partners and delivering training. Miami Dade College will be expanding the role it already plays as a central hub for growing the tech workforce in Miami.
In that way, the grants provide fresh momentum and much-needed resources as community colleges across the country look to evolve with the changing workforce and focus more squarely on economic mobility.