Combatting long-term unemployment with federal money

By Andrew S. Ross - Wednesday, October 22, 2014
SF Gate

Two job training centers in the Bay Area have been tasked by the federal government to help the long-term unemployed find jobs in the tech sector. And they’ve been given millions of dollars to fund their efforts.

Jewish Vocational Services in San Francisco and Nova Workforce and Development in Sunnyvale are among the recipients of grants aimed at addressing what U.S. Labor Secretary Thomas Perez, in a statement, called long-term unemployment (out of work for 27 weeks or more) "one of the most unfinished pieces left over from the recession."

JVS received $6.3 million "to develop a training model built on in-demand technology skills, skills demonstrations, networking and deep employer engagement," according to the White House, which announced the $170 million nationwide program last week.

"It’s difficult for people to grasp that in a city like San Francisco, awash with prosperity, we have professionals who have been unemployed for more than six months," said the nonprofit’s executive director, Abby Snay. "With a substantial investment in new skills training, especially for the growing technology sector, we will get people back to work."

Nova will use its $5.3 million to augment its job training and counseling programs and work with local workforce investment boards and business partners, including the Bay Area Council and the Silicon Valley Leadership Group — "sharing best practices for the long-term unemployed, with an emphasis on tech training, especially information technology," said Jeanette Langdell, employment training manager at Nova.

One key attribute the two organizations share: Their long-term unemployed clients are older, mostly in the 45-65 age range. Their odds of getting rehired in this post-Great Recession environment are long. "What these people have to go through who thought they would never be out of work," said Snay.

Under the terms of the four-year grant, 800 job seekers will be put through their paces by JVS, at the end of which it "anticipates at least 85 percent of program graduates will be employed by Bay Area companies." Nova is looking to a similar success rate with the 1,272 job seekers it will be working with.

Snay said the aim is to get her clients into "medium skill" tech jobs — for example, Salesforce CRM (customer relationship management) administration and development and front end Web and mobile app development. "JVS spent months analyzing the gap between the unemployed and the skills employers need and expect from job candidates."

The program starts out with "a job-search boot camp, for those who need to refresh their job-search skills, repackage themselves, and accelerate their job-seeking activities." That’s followed by training in the above mentioned "medium" skills, plus learning about network security and operating systems like Unix.

And there will be plenty of "client assessment" along the way. "This can’t just be about job search, which has changed enormously with social media, online resumes and behavioral interviewing techniques, but about acquiring skills, which are also changing rapidly," said Snay.

JVS has acquired some useful partners in the tech sector. In the past year, folks from LinkedIn, Twitter, eBay, Google, Microsoft and Zynga have been involved in various activities, including consulting on the grant proposal, along with companies like Bank of America and Charles Schwab. "With this grant, we can identify more high volume employers," said Snay.

The federal grants are of the Obama administration’s Ready to Work Partnership, launched in January to combat the problem of long-term unemployment, which five years after the Great Recession affects 2.9 million Americans. With the $170 million program, and more grants to follow, said Perez, "We are confident that we will be able to help them punch their ticket into the middle class again."

Andrew S. Ross is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer.
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