More Local Bang for the Public Buck

Authors: Sandra MyungJae Yu, Green For All Fellow, Class 4 For my term of service as a Green For All Fellow Candidate, I focused my work on a project we are calling the "Talent Hub" with the Detroit Regional Workforce Fund (DRWF), a pool of philanthropic investments dedicated to improving the ineffective workforce development system in Detroit. The project takes a sector-based approach focusing specifically on green construction. How high is unemployment in Detroit? In the words of our Mayor's Chief of Staff, Kirk Lewis, whatever the number is, 40% is "directionally correct." And a lot of our unemployed adults are what we call "hard to employ" – they may not have completed high school, or have spotty work history, or prison records. In response, local community organizations have created really good programs that combine basic education, such as literacy, math, job readiness, resume-writing, GED prep, with technical training to prepare residents for jobs in construction, weatherization, deconstruction, and environmental remediation. Detroiters Working for Environmental Justice (DWEJ) has had very good placement rates, which our job developer will say is due to his prowess... and also the fact that we train our workers for a "diverse portfolio of legally required certifications." In an industry where jobs are short term, a worker certified in asbestos, lead, and hazmat can find their next job a lot quicker than someone with just one certification. A worker certified in anything can find a job more easily than someone without any certifications. Unfortunately, not all single-focus training programs share this approach. There are several different job training programs in the local area, just in the "green" sector - environmental site remediation, weatherization, construction, deconstruction, lead abatement, asbestos abatement, hazardous waste removal, energy auditing. There are also a number of big, publicly subsidized development projects. For big projects whose funding comes from HUD, there is the Section 3 policy that encourages local hiring. Amazingly, there isn't much (or any) coordination among the different federal agencies that fund training (DOE, DOL, EPA) and those that fund the construction/repair/remediation/development projects for which residents are being trained (HUD, EPA, DOE). Nor is there very much effort or political will at the local government level to follow its own local hiring policies and leverage local jobs out of public expenditures. As it is, there is a weak "try your best" mandate to contractors to hire locally, and then contractors are given a list of 6-7 different training agencies to call. While Doing Development Differently in metro Detroit (D4) works on ways to strengthen the policy environment for local hiring through coalition-building and advocacy, the DRWF Talent Hub focuses on facilitating local hiring by making it easier for trained/qualified workers and contractors find each other. The Talent Hub proposes to maintain a sector-specific citywide master list of all of the trained and certified jobseekers, and serve as a single point of contact for city contractors who are looking for Detroit residents with the required skills. As the Talent Hub pilots this quarter, I am excited about the impact it will make on local hiring, income security, and ultimately, quality of life.

Sandra Yu — Detroit, MI

Sandra grew up in Southeast Michigan, then earned her SB and Masters in City Planning from MIT and taught high school for one year in Mexico before returning to the area to join Detroiters Working for Environmental Justice as the Build Up Detroit Program Manager. Her first encounter with environmental justice was in an international context, but since starting at DWEJ, she have come to understand... Read Sandra's full bio »

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