San Jose: Feds fund $5 million workforce initiative across four counties, Silicon Valley gets its share

By Leeta-Rose Ballester — Wednesday, January 28, 2015
SJ Mercury News

The U.S. Department of Labor is sending more than $5 million to the four-county Workforce Investment Board consortium with hopes of putting long-term unemployed people back into the workplace.

The plan is to reach approximately 1,300 participants across the four regions in a four-year span--and to realize employment for 900 of those individuals.

The Ready to Work grant money will also go toward funding certification or degrees for 500 of the participants.

Santa Clara County's NOVA in Sunnyvale and partner Work2future in San Jose are at the top of the list for grant money that will counsel and retrain individuals who have been out of work or underemployed for 27 weeks or more.

"There are many people who are underemployed now and who are striving to get back to where they were," said Lawrence Thoo, special projects coordinator for Work2future.

The grant includes help for those who have had temporary or "pay the bills" jobs since losing positions in their career path.

The Workforce Investment Board consortium is also comprised by boards in San Francisco, San Mateo and Alameda counties.

The total grant of $5,293,884 will be split among the four county boards by need rather than evenly divided.

"We share a common goal, which is to assist a number of long-term unemployed in re-entering their careers," said Thoo. "The focus here [in Silicon Valley] is primarily on the tech sector."

Those in the information, technology and communication world, for example, who have been out of work for a long time fit into the "tech cluster" and may benefit from some retraining, he said.

"These individuals found themselves displaced and they are discovering the needs of the marketplace have shifted," he said. "By and large, they are coming out of fairly high-wage occupations and they have a particular expertise.  

"Because the hiring needs at that level tend to be specific, they are finding their expertise may be out of sync."

To ready these folks for a changed work world, Work2future, NOVA and other partners have a plan to assess individual's skill sets--and gaps.

Career counseling and training make up a large part of the plan to get people back to work.

Another barrier, Thoo said, is a culture shock people may face when they have worked in one position at one company for many years.
"We'll also be working with these individuals to better compete in the evolving culture of new workplaces."

Santa Clara County's goal is to help 300 participants revive their careers after long stints of being unemployed or underemployed as the consortium as a whole receives $1,134,128 each year during the grant period.

Work2future, partnered with the city of San Jose, has been in the business of putting people back to work for more than a decade. It serves as the local arm of the Workforce Investment Act of 1998 and has offices from north San Jose to southern Santa Clara County.

NOVA, which serves areas known for the tech industry such as Cupertino, Los Altos, Milpitas, Mountain View, Palo Alto, Santa Clara and Sunnyvale, also works directly with local businesses and job seekers to build up the workforce.

Both agencies have one-stop centers placed throughout Silicon Valley and work congruently with Silicon Valley Leadership and the Bay Area Council to forge local and regional partnerships.

The four-county partnership has plans to work together to share insights and leverage the talents of each Bay Area workplace board.

The aim is to place around 85 percent of the 1,300 total long-termed unemployed applicants back into the workforce.