The state’s 14 community colleges have received a $20 million federal grant to retrain laid-off workers for manufacturing, energy and health care jobs.
Community College of Philadelphia will lead a consortium of state community colleges who will work with the Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry, industry groups and more than 25 companies to retrain residents for careers that have been identified as having a high demand for skilled labor.
The $20 million grant is part of nearly $500 million in grants announced Tuesday in a telephone conference hosted by Second Lady Jill Biden, Secretary of Labor Hilda L. Solis and Under Secretary of Education Martha Kanter as part of the U.S. Trade Adjustment Assistance Community College and Career Training program. The grants will be used to hire staff, buy equipment and develop curriculum, according to federal officials.
“These federal grants will enable community colleges, employers and other partners to prepare job candidates, through innovative programs, for new careers in high-wage, high-skills fields, including advanced manufacturing, transportation, health care and STEM occupations,” said Solis.
One of the goals of Pennsylvania’s business/community college partnership is to educate residents in as little as one year to receive industry recognized certificates that will allow them to immediately fill job openings. The consortium’s goal over the next three years is to award more than 2,400 of these skill certificates, particularly in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields.
“Our challenge will be to help laid-off and underemployed workers understand that short-term and long-term skill retraining is essential if they are to meet the labor demands of Pennsylvania employers, who are reporting skills gaps when screening applicants for new jobs,” said Community College of Philadelphia President Stephen M. Curtis.
The 14 community colleges will work together to develop both standardized and customized courses to meet the labor needs of area businesses and industries. Workforce Investment Boards from around the state have identified significant demand for labor in the fields of advanced manufacturing and logistics; energy distribution, production and conservation; and health care technologies, such as medical records and health information technology.
“Fields like advanced manufacturing (Mechatronics) and energy are expected to add more than 16,000 jobs to the Pennsylvania economy by 2018 and we are really pleased that this grant will help us respond to these workforce needs,” said Alex Johnson, president of the Pennsylvania Commission for Community College and of the Community College of Allegheny County.
U.S. Rep. Chaka Fattah said that Pennsylvania’s $20 million TAACCCT grant is the largest under the program. He called it a way “to jumpstart capacity-building in the curriculum, particularly focused on training for advanced manufacturing, energy and healthcare related jobs.”
Those grants support partnerships between community colleges and employers to develop programs that provide pathways to good jobs. Every community college has at least one employer partner — a sponsor that has jobs available and needs trained workers to fill them.
The TAACCCT program is designed to have a lasting impact on higher education, emphasizing the use of evidence in program design, collection of student outcome data and conducting evaluations to build knowledge about which strategies are most effective in placing graduates in jobs.
The grants are part of the Health Care and Education Reconciliation Act, which included a total of $2 billion over a four-year period.
According to the U.S. Department of Labor, 57 percent of people who work in a trade-related field in Pennsylvania have only a high school diploma or equivalent and nearly 60 percent of Pennsylvania’s trade workers are 40 to 60 years of age.
“The days of being able to rely on high school graduates to provide economic stability and vitality are over. More than half of all new jobs in the next decade will require a post secondary certificate or degree,” states the U.S. Department of Education’s March 2011 College Completion Tool Kit.
The body count rising almost nightly among Philadelphia’s at-risk urban youth population, along with mounting reports of rising crime and unemployment rates among that same populace amounts to a collective plea for help. The Department of Labor is at least partially answering that call, thanks to a nearly $1.5 million grant.
The grant of $1,499,989 will go to the North Philadelphia-based non-profit People For People Inc., which will use the funds for its “Project Restore” program, which trains, educates and otherwise reforms young adult ex-offenders.
The grant is part of the DOL’s national $50 million, two-pronged initiative aimed at curbing youth violence and unemployment; a little more than $19 million will go to programs serving incarcerated juveniles in high-poverty, high-crime areas; with the remainder going to programs that serve formerly incarcerated juveniles and young adults.
New York will receive two grants of the first type, joining it with Texas and Iowa; People For People Inc. joins the second group, which is comprised of more than 20 non-profits across the country, and also serves as Pennsylvania’s sole grant awardee.
“These young people deserve a chance to turn their lives around,” said U.S. Secretary of Labor Hilda L. Solis, in a statement released via the DOL. “The federal grants will help youth receive the training and support they need to gain valuable job skills and improve their long-term employment prospects.”
Congressman Chaka Fattah, instrumental in People For People obtaining the grant, said, “This important grant from the Department of Labor will help People For People continue to rebuild the lives of low-income minority young people who have had a brush with the law.”
People for People, Inc. will also be able to expand its Employment, Advancement and Retention Network (EARN), which has led the non-profit’s rehabilitative efforts since its 2006 inception.
According to the DOL, the grants will serve young adults age 18 to 21 who were involved in the juvenile justice system but never convicted as an adult. Those enrolled in the program will receive high school diplomas to go along with industry-grade training. Operated in conjunction with the Pennsylvania Department of Public Welfare, EARN itself runs two initiatives: the Career Development Component and Work Support Component.
“Reverend Herb Lusk and the People For People Inc. organization he founded deserve high praise. They continue the tough, necessary work of rescuing and lifting up some of Philadelphia’s most challenged, at-risk young people,” Fattah said. “Restoring ex-offenders to function in our society through training and education is critical, not just to the individuals involved, but to the entire community.”
Hilda Solis listens to community’s frustrations
As part of a Friday trip to Philadelphia to drum up support for President Obama’s $447 billion American Jobs Act, Secretary of Labor Hilda L. Solis took time from her busy schedule to meet with members of the faith-based community in Southwest Philadelphia.
While visiting the Southwest Leadership Academy Charter School in the morning, Solis participated in a roundtable discussion with members of the faith-based community.
She then took a tour of the Charter School, which included a visit with the Amachi Program, the nationally recognized mentoring program, before leaving for an early afternoon tour of Esperanza Academy Charter High School.
“It is great to be here and see what is going on in this community at this school,” Solis said. “We want to get out into communities all across the country and speak with the people who are feeling the pain of our economy. We want them to know that we are pushing hard to get them back to work.”
Solis emphasized aspects of the jobs act that are pertinent to places like Philadelphia, where the economy is hurting. She pointed out that the plan, unveiled in September, would put two million people back to work almost immediately, many of them African Americans, especially in infrastructure jobs.
“We have a lot of African Americans, minorities, who have lost their jobs in construction, because that industry is struggling,” Solis said. “[The American Jobs Act] would help to put people back to work repairing roads, bridges, our aviation systems and schools. These are areas that have not been attended to and they are crucial for the country to get jumpstarted and the economy back on track again.”
Joseph Meade, president of the Philadelphia Leadership Foundation, said the visit was important because it is crucial for community leaders to have as much access to information as the country struggles to get its economic engine running again.
“I’m delighted that she came and that we were able to find a real person — at the top of the chain, in this case — whom we can communicate with,” he said. “She made some real resources available to us, and she gave us regional contact people that we can continue to work with. Not just in this community but across the city. There are substantial resources available for training and employment. It was all worth it.”
Solis highlighted the Jobs Act’s emphasis on areas such as cutting the payroll tax and extending unemployment insurance, which is scheduled to expire on approximately six million Americans around this time next year, just in time to become a 2012 election issue.
“Why wouldn’t anyone want to do this for communities that are struggling?” Solis said. “They are trying to make this an election issue but it’s not all about elections; it’s about hurting people. Families are unemployed, children are starving and people are living in poverty. Businesses need to feel confident that they are getting tax credits to do things like hire veterans and people who have been unemployed for a long time. This can’t wait 12 more months. It has to happen now. And people who are against it need to be made to tell people just why they feel that way.”
Pastor Eric Simmons, senior pastor at First Baptist Church of Paschall, participated in the roundtable with Secretary Solis. Among other ministries at the church, Paschall has an economic empowerment ministry that is geared toward placing people in the community with jobs.
Simmons knows that there is no magic cure-all for this economy. However, having someone like Solis coming in and sharing ideas with the community is a great way to address the problem.
“As a church we want to continue to help grow the community,” Simmons said. “We just want to do our part. Having her come here and getting to see her passion for the things that we are doing — having her share resources — those are powerful things.”
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, young people across America had a hard time finding summer employment, which will have a ripple effect on back-to-school shopping and other school year preparations.
The findings are included in the “Employment and Unemployment Among Youth Summary,” which found that, from April to July of this year, unemployment among youth and young adult workers aged 16-24 rose 2.1 percent, and the overall share of the young unemployed also rose to 50.3 percent.
“Unemployment among youth increased by 836,000 from April to July 2012, compared with an increase of 745,000 for the same period in 2011,” read a portion of the summary. “The youth labor force — 16-to-24-year-olds working or actively looking for work — grows sharply between April and July each year. During these months, large numbers of high school and college students search for or take summer jobs, and many graduates enter the labor market to look for or begin permanent employment. This summer, the youth labor force grew by 2.9 million, or 14.2 percent, to a total of 23.5 million in July.”
Although the summary paints a lukewarm picture on the state of summer employment for young workers, it did note an increase in employment opportunities — just not enough to keep up with the new entrants into the workforce.
“Employment for 16- to 24-year-olds reached 19.5 million in July 2012, up 2.1 million since April. In 2011, youth employment rose by 1.7 million from April to July. The July 2012 employment-population ratio for youth — the proportion of the 16- to 24-year-old civilian non-institutional population with a job — was 50.2 percent, up from July 2011,” read the summary. “In July 2012, the youth employment-population ratio for men was 51.9 percent, and the ratio for women was 48.4 percent.
“The ratio for whites was 53.5 percent, compared with 38.9 percent for Blacks, 37.4 percent for Asians, and 46.5 percent for Hispanics.”
Overall, unemployment numbers for young workers remained relatively flat compared to last year, with 4 million unemployed this summer, as opposed to the 4.1 million that were left jobless last summer.
Secretary of Labor Hilda L. Solis found several silver linings in the summary, trumpeting the small gains in employment for young adults, while blaming the overall numbers on the recession the country is still working itself out of.
“The numbers show that, while there’s still work to be done, opportunities are growing for young people around the country. It’s no secret that the effects of the 2007 recession had a significant impact on job prospects for youth, but today’s report showed positive signs that job prospects for young people picked up pace in 2012,” Solis said. “Between April and July of each year, the youth labor grows significantly, as a large number of students take on summer work and new graduates enter the job market. So July traditionally marks the peak of youth employment during the year.
“Youth employment increased across a wide variety of industries, including education and health services, manufacturing, transportation and utilities, but there remains much work to be done, especially within communities of color,” Solis continued. “Earlier this year the president and I both took a stand for the importance of summer employment, launching our Summer Jobs+ initiative. By teaming up with committed businesses, nonprofits and cities around the country, this effort provided more than 300,000 summer job opportunities for low-income and disadvantaged youth, including more than 100,000 paid positions.
“Together we’re helping young people across the country realize that there’s no substitute for the real-world experience of work and no replacement for the dignity that comes with earning your first paycheck.”