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Charitable giving: Helping workers retool for growth sectors

While Labor Day has come and gone, the long-term prospects of the nation’s work force remain a central preoccupation for many.

No stranger to unemployment and underemployment in the decades since the decline of our manufacturing prowess, Baltimore has wrestled with how best to move jobless citizens to meaningful work at family-sustaining wages, and in some small but notable ways, we may have something to say to the rest of the country.

Seeded by Baltimore’s leading foundations and with public support from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, three “workforce intermediaries” in Baltimore — partnerships between employers and education and training providers — are demonstrating that formerly low-wage workers can find success in industries with significant potential for career growth, even in the current economy.

Models that work

(bullet) The Baltimore Alliance for Careers in Health Care creates opportunities for low-income residents to pursue health-care careers while meeting the hiring needs of local health-care institutions. A key focus is providing hands-on coaching for health-care workers, which is designed to increase employee retention rates, improve job performance and promote career advancement.

Of those who received coaching through BACH, 70 percent stayed employed for at least six months and were in jobs that provided health benefits. Recipients of coaching who retained a job for more than a year saw their wages increase by 75 percent.

(bullet) The BioTechnical Institute of Maryland trains people for entry-level jobs in Maryland’s expanding biotechnology industry and partners with more than 30 life sciences companies in the region. Employers have helped design BTI’s curriculum, assisted with instruction, provided internships and hired BTI graduates.

A 2007 study by the Jacob France Institute at the University of Baltimore found that BTI graduates experienced wage gains, on average, of 60 percent in the year following their training. Even during the economic downturn, BTI continues to place between 65 and 70 percent of its graduates into industry jobs.

(bullet) JumpStart, a pre-apprenticeship construction training program, works with low-income city residents to help them become licensed construction craft workers and obtain family-supporting, career-track jobs while improving the skills of the area’s construction work force. Operated by a partnership of Associated Builders and Contractors Inc. and the Job Opportunities Task Force, JumpStart provides training, placement and connections with employers.

JumpStart continues to post strong results, with 80 percent of graduates placed in jobs and a 50 percent increase from pre-enrollment wages.

Though by no means a complete answer to the economic and work force challenges we face as a country, these innovative partnerships do start to show us a way forward. Jobs do exist. Workers are ready and able to fill them, given appropriate training and support.

Betsy Nelson, executive director of the Association of Baltimore Area Grantmakers, writes every other week for The Daily Record.  She can be reached at 410-727-1205 or