$150 Million Federal Grant Aims to Help Long-Term Unemployed

By Corey Murray

On the heels of a meeting with higher education leaders to increase opportunities for low-income students, the White House has announced a new grant program to help put the long-term unemployed back to work — and community colleges stand to benefit.

The economy is improving. Across the country, jobless rates are down and hiring is on the rise. But one group of workers is finding it harder to break back into the job market: the long-term unemployed.

In an effort to help people kept out of work by the down economy, President Obama recently announced a new $150 million grant program through the U.S. Department of Labor.

The initiative, which the administration has dubbed the Ready to Work Partnership grant competition, was created to foster new agreements between employers and nonprofit organizations and to help those mired in long-term unemployment attain the skills necessary to break back into a more competitive job market.

“Just because you’ve been out of work for a while does not mean you’re not a harder worker,” Obama told a group of education and business leaders during a session at the January White House Opportunity Summit, according to The Hill.

The Labor Department says it will make 20 to 30 awards, ranging from $3 million to $10 million apiece, to programs that show promise in one of the five following areas: employer engagement, individualized counseling, job placement assistance and work-based training that facilitates hiring for jobs currently held by workers on foreign visas.

These are potentially big grants, and U.S. community colleges are in a position to benefit.

Think your college is ripe for a Ready to Work grant? The White House says administrators are ready to select programs that demonstrate some or all of the following:

Focus on the Long-Term Unemployed: The goal is to help people who might otherwise not be able to find work. Winning programs will employ strategies designed to recruit the long-term unemployed, either through assessments, assistance with job placement, training and mentoring or financial or behavioral counseling, according to Department of Labor.

Earning While Learning: Grant awards will also be given to programs that encourage students to learn while on the job, giving employers the opportunity to equip workers with the specific skill sets needed to win jobs.

Employer Engagement and Support: Across the board, program administrators want to reward initiatives that meet the needs of employers in high-growth industries — and that lead to employment in such fields. Labor says it will give preference to programs with “employer partners” interested in hiring participating students.

Got an idea for a Ready to Work initiative? Good. Just make sure at least three employers or a regional industry association is engaged in your project, says Labor. That one’s a deal breaker.

More than money

Ready to Work wasn’t the only initiative President Obama announced during his January meeting with higher education and business leaders. In all, leaders in more than 100 communities pledged to take action on four critical fronts:

  • Connect students to the right colleges to ensure graduation.
  • Increase college readiness by improving interventions.
  • Offer better advising and test preparation for all students.
  • Improve remediation tactics and services on campus to help underprepared students persist and complete.

Working with industry

In addition to working with colleges, President Obama reached out to employers for help, creating more opportunities for the long-term unemployed.

As part of the summit, the White House announced a pledge signed by some of the nation’s largest employers, in which the companies agreed not to summarily dismiss job candidates who had been out of work for long periods of time.

Some of the nation’s top employers have signed the document.

“What we have done is to gather together 300 companies, just to start with, including, some of the top 50 companies in the country, companies like Walmart, and Apple, Ford and others, to say, ‘Let’s establish best practices,’” Obama told CNN in an exclusive interview, adding, “Do not screen people out of the hiring process just because they’ve been out of work for a long time.”

Grant applications for the Ready to Work program are being accepted through June 19. Want to learn more about the program? Check out our article on Community College Daily.

Corey Murray

is editor of the 21st-Century Center.

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