Why does the Weinberg Foundation focus on jobs?
Having a stable job creates the best opportunity for personal success and financial stability. Providing access to quality jobs that set individuals on a career pathway will improve their lives and enable them to contribute to their community.
Yet more than one-quarter (26%) of U.S. adults have no education beyond a high school diploma, trapping millions of Americans into a cycle of low-skill work that pays at or close to the minimum wage. Middle-skill jobs — which require postsecondary education but less than a four-year degree — make up over half of the labor market, but only 43% of the adult workforce has the skills needed to fill these jobs, which offer regular full-time hours, pay well enough for workers to move out of poverty, and act as springboard opportunities for career advancement.
What are the priorities of the Foundation’s grantmaking in this area?
We have two core areas of focus:
- Job training that results in industry-recognized credentials and helps participants get and keep a job. Examples of required industry-recognized certifications include the National Institute of Metalworking Skills for jobs in manufacturing, Occupational Safety and Health Administration certifications for jobs in construction, ServSafe credentials for jobs in food service, and a CompTIA A+ certification in the field of information technology (IT). To allow program participants to increase their wages and improve their prospects for career advancement down the road, we often talk about stacking credentials, such as adding expertise in cybersecurity to another IT credential.
- Youth employment and career support. This generally involves career exploration and work-based learning opportunities for youth ages 18–24, including paid internships and programs that enable them to earn credentials.
To help individuals enter and attain success in the workforce, grantees must provide training and support services to help remove barriers, such as access to child care and transportation, so that individuals can attain long-term sustainability and self-sufficiency.
How has the Foundation’s grantmaking focused on jobs evolved over time?
For years, we supported entrepreneurship training, which was effective in building skills such as financial literacy and problem-solving but wasn’t resulting in individuals accessing capital and starting their own businesses. We have narrowed our focus to jobs within our priority communities that are in demand-driven industries with good entry and career-advancement opportunities, such as health care, manufacturing, biotech, construction, information technology, and food service. This includes funding evidence-based strategies that align training with specific sectors and the types of positions employers need to fill.
As an example, Baltimore has a particularly high concentration of health care opportunities, so we focus on training for jobs in this field. The Baltimore Alliance for Careers in Healthcare works with 13 major hospital partners to help with placement, advancement, and retention of its program participants, so it knows where openings are and where opportunities may be. In addition, we also focus on IT as a way to get jobs in education and health care, and funding programs to help individuals get a high school diploma or GED — often the first requirement of any employer regardless of experience.
What are some recent examples of grants in this area?
Training for the bioscience industry: The Foundation supports BioTechical Institute of Maryland’s BioSTART and Laboratory Associates Program, which ensures low-income Baltimore participants have the requisite scientific knowledge, and math and literacy skills, and then helps them get hands-on training, build their skills, and enter careers in the bioscience industry. In 2021, the nonprofit enrolled 63 participants, with 75% completing the program and a 70% placement rate. Their annual earnings increased from $15,069 to $44,292 one-year post-completion.
Starting on a career path: Urban Alliance works with school systems throughout Baltimore, Chicago, Detroit, and Washington, D.C., to create equitable economic opportunities for high school youth who face significant obstacles and enable them to succeed through paid internships, professional skills training, and mentorships. Of the students who participate in its internship program, 100% graduate from high school; 90% are accepted into college; and 85% secure employment or enter vocational training or the military. Grantees Per Scholas and NPower provide IT training and industry-recognized certifications for individuals in the Foundation’s priority communities. Per Scholas is exploring potential communities to expand its reach, and NPower’s new program, SkillBridge, helps ease the transition to civilian life and employment for military veterans.
Strategizing for long-term success: At the national level, we have supported the National Fund for Workforce Solutions for more than 15 years. Throughout that time, the National Fund has grown to 34 collaboratives that aim to assist both low-wage workers and job seekers with finding good jobs and help businesses find the talent they need. To date, Foundation funding has enabled about 92,000 workers and job seekers to find sustainable employment. The partnership has also leveraged Weinberg’s grants to bring in more than $384 million in local funding.
At the local level, the Jane Addams Resource Corporation (JARC) demonstrates the importance of partnership. In 2015, JARC’s leadership worked with state and local government and philanthropy in Maryland to replicate its successful Chicago-based program — which prepares low-income job seekers for middle-skill positions that employers need to fill, such as machinists and welders — in Baltimore. The program also enables families to move toward financial stability with comprehensive support services, including financial coaching, and connects them with public programs to help cover basic needs, such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. Over the past three years, the annual earnings of Baltimore participants have increased from $33,460 when they finished the program to $57,904 three years post-completion.
What does the future hold for the Foundation’s grantmaking in jobs?
We will continue to support proven sector-based training programs. This includes programs that screen applicants to make sure they are motivated and that the program is a proper fit for them; help with developing life skills and ensuring individuals are ready for a particular career; and provide industry-recognized credentials. These training programs also work directly with employers to verify program content and support placement and retention services for program graduates.
Through the National Fund for Workforce Solutions, we are excited to test a new model to improve service delivery in the Foundation’s priority communities over the next two years. Instead of telling individuals what credentials they need and what they must do, this model will allow for hearing more from participants and people with real-world experience to truly understand where the opportunities and pitfalls are after going through some of these programs.
Not surprisingly, we are hearing more than ever from grantees about struggles with mental health as a result of the pandemic, which may lead organizations to consider increasing support services for mental health — e.g., one-on-one counseling — so that their participants can be more successful. To that end, the Foundation aims to invest in effective solutions in this area, too.
Overall, we strive to be a thought partner with our grantees, helping them think through strategies to tackle their greatest challenges to ultimately ensure the success of all the people they serve.