The Worcester Jobs Fund, a City of Worcester initiative designed to better connect city residents with career pathways, is continuing to grow their services and community impact after its launch more than three years ago.

Targeting minorities and individuals with previous employment obstacles WJF programming serves everyone from veterans to single parents, people of color, those with a past felony conviction, women, people with disabilities, and low-income residents.

“Our job is to create opportunities for local residents to learn the credentials needed to fill in-demand, living-wage positions,” said Kelsey Lamoureux, WJF director.

“As local companies expand and [create] new employment opportunities, it’s important that these opportunities are [accessible] to local residents,” she said adding, “we want to make sure they have the skills necessary to really attain them.”

During their first year in operation, WJF enrolled 65 low-income individuals in job training across four categories – building trades workers, commercial drivers, food production workers, and diesel technicians – 88 percent of whom completed the coursework. The average per-hour wage of that first cohort of WJF graduates was $15.32 – more than $5 above the 2016 Massachusetts minimum wage.

Most recently, during Fiscal Year 2019, the WJF served 77 participants with an 87-percent program completion rate. In the workforce, graduates earned an average $16.70 per hour – more than $4 above the current statewide minimum page.

One such graduate was Nalla Mugisha who completed the commercial driver’s license Class B program in April and has since been working for Atlas Distributing.

A recent transplant from Boston, Mr. Mugisha said he realized “there were opportunities [he] wasn’t taking advantage of,” after a visit to the MassHire Worcester Career Center on Main Street—where WJF is housed.

Ms. Lamoureux met with him, administered a short skills test, Mr. Mugisha was accepted to WJF’s free, month-long program and on his way to obtaining a CDL B.

“Everyone at MassHire was very nice, especially Kelsey—she told me all about the program,” reflected Mr. Mugisha on his experience. “I really respect them and everything they do, they changed my life.”

Because of his positive experience, Mr. Mugisha said whenever he gets the chance, “I tell everybody … MassHire has a lot of opportunities, not just CDL.”

In addition to increasing the number of graduates – since its inception, WJF has served a total of 224 clients – the organization continues to expand their programmatic offerings and the industries for which they train.

“One of the unique things about the WJF,” said Ms. Lamoureux, “is that we respond to the labor market’s needs in real time.”

Building on their previous portfolio; which offered CDL A and B, Worcester Building Pathways, biomanufacturing, and culinary programs among others; WJF debuted EKG/ phlebotomy and medical office administration trainings in FY 2019 in response to the growing healthcare industry demands in Worcester, said Ms. Lamoureux.

Noting the importance of hiring local, Ms. Lamoureux said recruiting within Worcester’s backyard “builds a strong economy where wages are earned and spent in the city, provides residents access to good jobs in their community, and benefits employers through a diverse workforce.”

WJF is overseen by a collaborative committee of representatives from the Worcester Regional Chamber of Commerce, MassHire Worcester Career Center, MassHire Central Region Workforce Board, the Worcester Community Labor Coalition, and Worcester Public Schools. A significant portion of their responsibilities include outreach to local companies – especially those receiving tax incentives – to recruit their support as project partners and improve career pathways and placement.

The committee meets and engages with local employers and developers to discuss workforce needs, spread WJF awareness, and ultimately reinforce workforce pipelines – “especially for jobs created out of TIF plans,” said Ms. Lamoureux. As a result, several employer-partners offer priority status for open positions to WJF participants upon graduation.

Starting this month, WJF will begin recruiting for their early spring programs including CDL class B, Worcester Building Pathways PreApprenticeship, and medical office administration.

To learn more about the Worcester Jobs Fund, visit their webpage at worcester-jobs-fund.

Dominique Goyette-Connerty was a marketing and communications associate for the Worcester Regional Chamber of Commerce. She is now a freelance correspondent. To read the entirety of the November 2019 edition of the Chamber Exchange, visit the newspaper archive.