Federal money is flowing to support local jobs creation

Best listening experience is on Chrome, Firefox or Safari. Subscribe to Federal Drive’s daily audio interviews on Apple Podcasts or PodcastOne.

A variety of local governments and nonprofits recently received workforce training federal grants. The Economic Development Administration, part of the Commerce Department, awarded the grants under a program called the Good Jobs Challenge. The goal is to create job opportunities for 50,000 people. For how the program works, the Deputy Assistant Secretary for Policy Michele Chang joined...

READ MORE

Best listening experience is on Chrome, Firefox or Safari. Subscribe to Federal Drive’s daily audio interviews on Apple Podcasts or PodcastOne.

A variety of local governments and nonprofits recently received workforce training federal grants. The Economic Development Administration, part of the Commerce Department, awarded the grants under a program called the Good Jobs Challenge. The goal is to create job opportunities for 50,000 people. For how the program works, the Deputy Assistant Secretary for Policy Michele Chang joined the Federal Drive with Tom Temin.

Interview transcript:

Tom Temin: Ms. Chang, good to have you on.

Michele Chang: Great to be here, thanks so much for having me.

Tom Temin: So this was a challenge grant program. But these were pretty large awards. Tell us, first of all, the overall goals of the program and how it relates to some recent legislation.

Michele Chang: Well, the good jobs challenge is all about making once-in-a-generation investments aimed at creating high quality workforce systems to really transform America’s communities. It was funded by the American Rescue Plan, which the Commerce Department developed, a competitive grant process to allocate $500 million to innovative workforce development programs. So we had $500 million to give away to communities across our country to really build these workforce systems that will train and place workers into good quality jobs.

Tom Temin: And it looks like they all went to places that are nonprofits or local governments and even some educational institutions. Is that a good way to describe who got the money?

Michele Chang: Yes, that’s correct. So we at the Economic Development Administration have authority to provide grants to basically any type of organization except for-profit companies or individuals. So that’s why you see the type of organizations that we did give grants to. So you saw everything from economic development organizations to higher education, labor unions, as well as local and state governments as well. So those are the type of organizations that did get our grants.

Tom Temin: And what was the criteria for giving grants? Some of them range up to $20-$25 million, some of them are less than $2 million.

Michele Chang: So we did put out a Notice of Funding Opportunity, which does lay out the different criteria that we evaluated applications against. And it ranged from a number of things from organizational capacity and experience doing this type of work. But one of the key things we really were looking for was employer engagement. We really were focused on programs that would really place and train workers into existing jobs and to have employers make commitments to doing that. So that was one of the key things we were looking at was employer engagement, and employer commitment to place workers into good quality jobs. We looked at other things. Another thing that we were really stressed was equity. We really wanted this project to focus on underserved populations and communities and to help those folks be able to get the training that they need to be able to land these good quality jobs.

Tom Temin: And when you say employer engagement, how does that translate into reality? Say I’m just picking one at random here, the Office of Workforce Strategy in Connecticut, and the industry served as manufacturing, health care, information technology, biomedical, which makes sense when you think of what might be in Connecticut. But it implies that there is some connection between the Office of Workforce Strategy and what employers connected to that office actually need for employees.

Michele Chang: What we’re looking for is employer engagement, every step of the way, and would go even a step further than that. We’re really looking for employer leadership. And this is one of the key things we really focused as. As the Department of Commerce, we fundamentally believe that it was important to have employer leadership every step of the way. So what that looks like is these projects start with an employer. The employer comes to an office like the one you mentioned and says we are currently struggling to find skilled talent to fill these open vacancies that we have. And let’s work together as a coalition within our community, including local education, community-based organizations, finding a training partner to be able to create a training program to fill those skilled needs. And the employer will work hand in hand with that organization, as well as a training provider to develop a training program that will ultimately help workers get the skills that will help them land those open quality jobs.

Tom Temin: So the training is conducted ultimately, by the employers themselves or by these organizations receiving the grants?

Michele Chang: It may not be either actually. It could be these coalitions that we’re providing grants to include up to 50, 100 different organizations. We have some grantees who are including over 50 to 60 employers in their region. So this is really a partnership in a community. So usually the trainings actually executed by an educational institution. So it could be a community college, it could be a four year university, it could be other types of training providers as well.

Tom Temin: Got it. But the ultimate use of the dollars is training for specific openings that industry has said it needs in these locales.

Michele Chang: That’s correct. Not only the training, but also the building of the system to be able to do this. So and when we talk about system it really is that coalition that I talked about these different organizations within a community that can come together and understand each of the unique roles that they play to be able to help train workers support them throughout the trainings. One of the key things that we focus on with this program was also providing wraparound services for workers as they’re going through training. So we know that particularly folks from underserved populations may have barriers to be able to successfully complete this training. So things like child care, transportation, language support, access to technology, these are all things that we are also funding to help support those workers make the transition not only to actually do the training, but also make that transition from training to employment.

Tom Temin: We’re speaking with Michele Chang, she’s deputy assistant secretary for Policy at the Commerce Department. And what kind of follow up and monitoring will you do to make sure that the companies got the people they needed, and that the people were equipped to do the jobs that the employers ultimately require?

Michele Chang: So we are been going to be working very closely with these 32 grantees that we provide grants to, to make sure that they, number one, have the support that they need, but also to monitor their progress and success. So they’ve all outlined different metrics that they believe that they’ll be able to hit throughout the process. We’re going to be working hand in hand with each of them. We also have developed a community of practice and provided a grant to an organization called Jobs for the Future, who will help build a community amongst these 32 grantees, help them share best practices and do knowledge sharing too, because we know even though they’re all in different regions, and working in somewhat different industries, there’s a lot of learning that can be done across the grantees as well.

Tom Temin: And just tell me more about this equity piece. Because when you go from place to place throughout the country, you see towns that are impoverished in all of the states. And some places, the impoverished people might be Black, sometimes they’re white, sometimes they’re Hispanic, it just depends on the locale. What they have in common is that they are underemployed or unemployed. And so how does the equity apply across these different areas, given the populations vary from place to place?

Michele Chang: I’m so glad you asked that question. Yes. So what we really stress, like I mentioned for this program is equity. And that, in our mind, how we define equity was underserved populations or community. So as you mentioned, it could be communities of color, it could be communities that have experienced high levels of distress over time, what we’re really looking for is a comprehensive, holistic approach to supporting those communities. And it can look different in every community, for example, we have projects that are going to help folks like working parents, communities of color, veterans, formerly incarcerated individuals, those in recovery individuals, that’s disabilities. All of these folks have different challenges they may face. And so what we looked for in the projects was a holistic approach to supporting those individuals as they’re going through their process. And so what that looks like, is really understanding the unique needs of those individuals, and partnering with community based organizations to provide that support. So for some folks, it could be language support. For other people, it could be making sure that they have transportation. For example, if someone lives in the rural community, but is trying to do training or looking for a job that’s in an urban area, how do we make sure that they have the transportation to be able to get that training, and then ultimately be able to do the job that they’re placed in.

Tom Temin: And you mentioned that there were $500 million under this program from the American Recovery Act. How much have you awarded? And will there be another round for the rest of the money?

Michele Chang: So we have awarded all of the $500 million. On Aug. 3, we announced all the awardees. So we announced that all $500 million have been awarded at this time. This is all the money that we’ve been allocated by Congress for this specific program. And so that is what is being awarded at this time.

Tom Temin: All right, so $500 million divided by 50,000 jobs – that’s a pretty good investment on the part of the federal government, isn’t it, per job?

Michele Chang: It is quite a bit of money per job. But we fundamentally believe that is what’s needed not only to help support particular folks, like we talked about from underserved communities, so that they have that full support to be able to make that transition from training to employment. But also what we need to think about is that we’re investing in these workforce systems in 32 different communities. And so our hope is that these 32 systems will be able to continue to fund these types of programs, run these types of programs so that in the future if there’s different types of jobs or different industries that have a need in their community, they already have that system established and developed to be able to meet those needs.

Tom Temin: Michele Chang is deputy assistant secretary for Policy at the Commerce Department. Thanks so much for joining me.

Michele Chang: Thank you thanks so much for having me.

Related Stories

The latest in Government Events powered by: