National Fund for Workforce Solutions meeting in Atlanta seeking to train low-wage workers, build middle class

By Maria Saporta

Atlanta has been the setting this week for a national conversation on the future of our workforce and how we can help those with the lowest paying jobs graduate to the middle class.

The National Fund for Workforce Solutions, a five-year-old organization of foundations and organizations interested in improving the job opportunities for low-wage employees, has spent the last three days in Atlanta looking at the results of its 30 community partners across the country to see if they have made a different. About 275 people from around the country have been exploring the best practices in job training and placement in various communities.

In the last five years, the National Fund has provided career development services to 42,399 individuals; 4,064 employers have received services from the National Fund and its partners — such as recruitment and screening or job referral; and it has received $41 million from national funders that have leveraged $192 million in local funds.

The United Way for Greater Atlanta is one of the National Fund’s newest partners. In 2011, the Fund provided United Way a $150,000 two-year grant to establish Atlanta CareerRise. United Way has had to match that by raising $600,000.

Milton Little, president of Atlanta’s United Way, said CareerRise has established a workforce partnership with WellStar Health System to help build upon an existing pilot program where the company’s low-skill workers can build a career path to higher-skilled and better-paying jobs. That helps improve loyalty and retention among employees, and it helps meet a need that WellStar has for a trained and dedicated workforce.

“We’ve already had our first graduating class,” Little said.

Fred Dedrick, executive director of the National Fund, said that the United States has a great need to create a pipeline of better-trained workers who can meet the employment needs of the business community.

“We need to be able to get employers together in career partnerships,” Dedrick said in an interview. About 45 percent of the Fund’s partnerships are in healthcare because that has been one industry that has had job growth throughout the recession. The Fund also has been working with industry partners in the logistics, distribution and transportation sectors. And now there is a growing need in developing new manufacturing skills in the United States.

“Most of the people in manufacturing are over 55 years old,” Dedrick said. “A massive number of people are retiring in the manufacturing sector.”

Dedrick said the “sweet spot” is for young people who have about two years of post-high school education who are interested in learning the skills for the jobs that are open today and will be available tomorrow.

Dannel Malloy, the governor of Connecticutt, gave the keynote address at Wednesday’s lunch — agreeing with several of the Fund’s initiatives.

“Manufacturing is going to grow rapidly in the next 10 years in the United States,” Malloy said. When he became governor, Malloy said his “state had been on the losing side of job creation for 22 years” even though “23 million jobs had been created in the United States.”

One of Connecticut’s major problems has been its achievement gap between the haves and have-nots, so Malloy has worked to increase the minimum wage and “move people to the middle class and train that workforce.” Malloy readily admitted that Connecticut “is never going to be a low-cost state to live and work,” but he also said the state is working to invest its resources in education, including community colleges and high schools.

In an interview after his talk, Malloy expressed disappointment in a lack of progress in Washington, D.C. in getting a jobs bill or an infrastructure bill that would really help boost the economy and help build the middle class.

“The federal government has screwed this up pretty well,” Malloy said. “The hard work, the important work, is going to take place among states and cities.”

Malloy went on to say that because the federal government is not playing a partnership role with cities and states, “we have handicapped community efforts to work with nonprofits” and industry to really stimulate the economy and create new jobs that would help build the middle class.

Maria Saporta, Editor, is a longtime Atlanta business, civic and urban affairs journalist with a deep knowledge of our city, our region and state.  Since 2008, she has written a weekly column and news stories for the Atlanta Business Chronicle. Prior to that, she spent 27 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, becoming its business columnist in 1991. Maria received her Master’s degree in urban studies from Georgia State and her Bachelor’s degree in journalism from Boston University. Maria was born in Atlanta to European parents and has two young adult children.

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