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New grant to bolster employment efforts

Washington state youth and adults will now have access to new grant funding for job opportunities under the Career Connect Washington Initiative that begins this month. Proponents say the money will help students find alternate career paths and assist employers in filling open jobs due to lack of a skilled workforce.

The $6.4 million Career Connect Washington grant is projected to allow 29,000 students to engage in apprenticeships, job shadowing and internships. The Office of the Governor will distribute $1.3 million of the funding to Seattle-King County, $957,255 to Island, San Juan, Skagit and Whatcom counties, $854,547 to Adams, Chelan, Douglas, Grant and Okanogan counties, and smaller amounts to other regions of the state.

“A four-year degree isn’t the only path to a fulfilling career,” Governor Jay Inslee said in the announcement. “Business leaders have told us they are looking for talent in everything from information technology to health care. And that’s what this initiative is all about: connecting students to great employers and high-quality job training.”

The money comes from the federal Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA), and would be awarded by the state’s Employment Security Department (ESD) and the Washington Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) Network. The grant will be executed this month and conclude in September 2019.

Miriam Martin, Workforce Southwest Washington (WSW) Initiatives Manager, told Lens that business owners will benefit from the grant program because participating young adults will gain soft skills that transfer into the workplace, and employers will have access to more skilled workers and local talent. WSW is the lead organization in Southwest Washington tasked with providing project oversight and fiscal monitoring, data compliance and reporting back to the funder.

According to WSW CEO Jeanne Bennett, a number of industries from manufacturing to technology to health care are experiencing worker shortages.

“Employers can address these shortages by exposing young people to specific careers and supporting career-connected learning in their communities,” she said. “While this involves investment of time, talent and funds in the training and education needs of young people, it pays off in well-trained, motivated employees in the near future.”

Martin said the organization will use the grant money to facilitate new programming and strategies to better benefit underserved populations.

According to Martin, WSW will use the grant to fund a healthcare apprenticeship and partnership through Clark College with community-based organizations and local employers including PeaceHealth and Great Rivers Behavioral Health. The grant funding will also go to expand the Aerospace Joint Apprenticeship Committee (AJAC) manufacturing apprenticeship program in Cowlitz County.

The WSW and the Columbia-Willamette Workforce Collaborative 2016 “Opportunity Youth” report revealed that approximately 8,370 young adults aged 16-24 living in Southwest Washington are not in school and are not employed. A large portion of this population speaks a language other than English at home and may live in households where they are parenting children, or they may live in households earning below 200 percent of the federal poverty line.

“Youth in transition from traditional education to either the workforce or further education represent some of the greatest opportunities and challenges for growing and strengthening our local workforce,” said Martin. “Not all youth are fully prepared to make this transition into the workforce; those who struggle are an important focus and priority for local workforce development efforts.” Adding that there are many challenges to prepare youth for careers, including access to transportation, scheduling and workplace safety restrictions for minors.

“Most youth don’t have opportunities to explore industries and experience the workplace environment through either employment or worksite learning opportunities, and most employers don’t have the capacity to design and organize such opportunities,” said Martin. “The youth programs funded through WSW provide these opportunities for both youth and business.”

In July 2018, WSW will open a youth employment and education office to create a hub for young adults to access resources to help them complete their high school education or obtain a General Educational Diploma (GED), learn about career pathways and explore other training opportunities.

Dot Fallihee, CEO of the Workforce Development Council of Seattle-King County (WDC), told Lens she was thrilled the Seattle region would be one of the areas selected to be funded at 100 percent through the grant.

With a projected 740,000 job openings in Washington state over the next five years, Fallihee said Seattle-King County will have experienced the majority of this falloff, and many will require college degrees.

“We want to make sure that students who are not on that pathway know that there are opportunities in the trades that may provide them with family-wage jobs and benefits,” she said. “…The grant is giving people opportunities they might not otherwise have. Our partners work with ‘opportunity youth,’ that is, young people not engaged in either education or employment. This grant will give them opportunities, and it will end up helping employers by creating a robust talent pipeline for them.”

Fallihee said WDC is the “one-stop system” for providing businesses with services and assisting them with workforce development needs.

“This opportunity helps us extend that outreach to employers with really authentic employer engagement, and new and expanded internship opportunities.”

Mike Richards grew up in Charlotte, North Carolina. He graduated from Duquesne University in Pittsburgh, PA with a degree in Multiplatform Journalism and a minor in Public Relations. He wrote and published articles at Pittsburgh’s NPR station covering a variety of topics.

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