Newark’s Workforce Investment Board has received a $3 million federal grant for a pilot project ultimately designed to match up the unemployed with suitable jobs.
“This is a seminal moment...This is a shot of steroids that’s going to propel us forward to meet the challenges of the day,” Mayor Cory Booker said during a press conference held at the New Jersey Institute of Technology yesterday.
The award, one of 26 grants totalling $147 million disbursed nationwide by the US Department of Labor, will be used for a refined analysis of data on job seekers, the efficacy of training programs and other criteria. The analysis will be similar to the CompStat system used by the New York City Police Department to battle crime using a hyperlocal approach, said Deputy Secretary of Labor Seth Harris, who also spoke at yesterday’s press conference.
The Newark program will be the first of its kind in the nation, Harris also said.
The Workforce Investment Board, located at 990 Broad St., assists 25,000 clients a year, said Nelida Valentin, the board’s executive director. Many of the agency’s clients have criminal records, a population that experiences particular difficulty in finding work, Valentin also said.
Unemployed residents have expressed frustration that they cannot find work even as businesses large and small are setting up shop in Newark again after decades of commercial decline. Electronics firm Panasonic is building its headquarters at Raymond Boulevard and McCarter Highway, and Booker, without divulging specifics, said even more businesses plan to announce investments in the city over the next several months.
But the mayor also said the city must commit itself to helping residents obtain the skills needed by the various new enterprises that will call Newark home. The grant award is a step towards that goal, Booker said.
“What does it mean if we’re doing all this development, all this construction, all these companies are coming and we cannot connect Newark residents to those job opportunities?" he said. "It’s embarrassing to me , to have a hotel go up and have our own residents not trained, not prepared, for those new hospitality jobs.”
The funding for Newark almost never materialized, speakers yesterday also said. Republicans in Congress originally intended to slash the workforce funding from the federal budget, but President Obama insisted it remain.
“The president, in the midst of the budget battle two years ago, said I have to have the money for the workforce investment program,” Harris said.
“It’s incredible to me that this is the vision he has,” Booker said of Obama, who he also praised for getting down to the “nitty-gritty of government.”
Also yesterday, Harris, Booker and other officials toured the campus of NJIT, which received a grant several months ago to help train people in so-called “H1-B” jobs. H1-B refers to a special visa awarded to foreigners with necessary skills, particularly in technical fields.
Employers often ask the federal government to award the visas because they are unable to find Americans with the required skill sets. The NJIT grant is helping train US citizens in those fields.
New Jersey, home to several pharmaceutical and other high-tech firms, has the fourth-highest number of H1-B visa jobs in the nation, Harris said.