Even before federal welfare reform, it was clear Seattle needed a new approach to help low income adults find and keep livable wage jobs. Despite unprecedented job growth throughout the Puget Sound area and an urgent demand for semi-skilled and skilled labor, unemployment in Seattle's economically distressed communities was three times higher than the city-wide average.
Starting with a $5 million, seven-year Annie E. Casey Foundation grant in October 1995, Seattle began initial planning to meet the needs of economically disadvantaged individuals and area businesses by identifying and developing ways to better link job seekers with good jobs in the regional economy. With the passage of federal welfare legislation, the need to place individuals in livable wage jobs became more urgent. The Mayor proposed and the City Council approved the creation of a $6.5 million Families and Jobs Opportunity Fund for the 1997-98 biennium. The Families and Jobs Opportunity Fund builds upon the work already begun with the Casey Foundation grant by providing flexible funds for support and training.
In February 1997, the City of Seattle unveiled the Seattle Jobs Initiative (SJI), a comprehensive, strategic, system-wide approach designed to meet the needs of local businesses seeking qualified workers and low income individuals seeking permanent, long term employment at a livable -- minimum $8 per hour --wage. The Seattle Jobs Initiative replaces a system of job placement that is fragmented, offers little ongoing support services to employers and employees, and does not direct individuals into training or other programs leading to a permanent job paying a livable wage.
Business, educational institutions, labor, foundations, nonprofit agencies, state agencies, the County, the Private Industry Council, and other jurisdictions collaborated to design and fund SJI. In addition, 2,594 survey responses from residents, focus groups involving 180 participants and various community forums provided information for initial program development.
The Seattle Jobs Initiative addresses the issues facing both job seekers and employers. It takes a long term view of employment opportunities by identifying areas of job growth, linking individuals with appropriate training to qualify for jobs in growth sectors, and removing barriers to employment. Individuals, with appropriate training and support services, can move out of poverty and onto a job path so they can continue to support themselves and their families. SJI focuses on livable wage jobs, job retention, employer responsiveness, and integrated human services.
Two new functions separate the Seattle Jobs Initiative from other job programs -- the broker function and the community network.
The broker function, to be housed in the Economic Development Council Chamber of Commerce, is a one-stop-shop for employers needing workers. It is a clearinghouse for jobs and a service that links the business sector with nonprofit agencies working with job seekers. The job broker works with community colleges and apprenticeship programs to develop appropriate training programs specifically designed to meet the workforce needs of particular groups of employers, with business guiding the curriculum development of training efforts.
As individuals seek to enter the workforce for the first time or re-enter the workforce after a period of unemployment, they often need support services to become "ready to earn." The Community Network includes community-based agencies which serve as entry points into the program. Network case managers conduct a needs assessment to determine an individual's skill level and job readiness and link the individual with needed services. Services, provided by community-based agencies, may range from those specifically designed to improve job skills (e.g., training, resume writing, job search skills, English as a Second Language classes) to those support services that enable an individual to remain in a job (e.g., transportation, child care, housing). The job broker will refer openings to the Community Network, and job-ready individuals will be referred to available positions.
In its first phase, the Seattle Jobs Initiative expects to place 800 individuals in jobs paying at least $8 per hour. The construction trades, manufacturing, health occupations, and jobs with temporary agencies are targeted for the first year.
In addition to the City of Seattle and the Annie E. Casey Foundation, SJI has several funders, including Boeing, the Medina Foundation, Microsoft, the Northwest Area Foundation, the Seattle Foundation, US West, and Wells Fargo Bank.
Contact: Office of the Mayor, (206) 684-4000
The United States Conference of Mayors
J. Thomas Cochran, Executive Director
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