Rural Community Mobilization: Collaborative Workforce Strategies Aimed at Jobs

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CED Guest Author

Anne Bacon is Senior Director for Workforce Development at the N.C. Rural Economic Development Center.

“Green, do you want a job?”  Kehoni Green had just crossed the stage at Nash Community College’s graduation when he was approached by the chief of the Nashville Fire Department.  The training and credentials he obtained through the Haliwa-Saponi Indian Tribe’s Community Mobilization grant helped him land a job, despite the double-digit unemployment rate in Halifax, Nash and surrounding counties.

Another participant in a project implemented by Graham County and Tri-County Community College learned green building and entrepreneurship skills.  After completing training, he built a “green” home that received one of the best Energy Star ratings ever achieved in the state.

And a dislocated worker was helped by OIC (Opportunities Industrialization Center) of Wilson to receive community college training and obtain a job in health care, earning twice what she had been making in retail before being laid off.

With Recovery Act funding from the N.C. Department of Commerce, the Rural Center launched a first cycle of Rural Community Mobilization grants in January 2010 to help dislocated workers and other unemployed or underemployed adults find jobs.  Twelve projects were funded, with services in 16 rural counties that were carried out for a year to year-and-a-half.  In January 2012, the Rural Center expects to launch a second cycle of seven to 10 new projects, using its own state funding and support from the N.C. Department of Commerce.

Through Community Mobilization grants, local organizations team up to identify unmet needs of the unemployed/underemployed and fill those gaps. Project teams implement plans to train for fields in high-demand, such as health care and green building. Other strategies include internships or work experience, job expos, establishment of Benefit Bank sites (help accessing existing services/tax benefits), creation of nonprofit “access points” into the workforce system for underserved populations, or support services such as transportation. Project teams vary, but are often led by community colleges, economic development agencies, workforce development agencies, and community-based organizations.

On the participant level, the Rural Community Mobilization Project aims to upgrade education and skill levels, provide credentials that are meaningful in the job market and help unemployed/underemployed adults find jobs.  On the community level, the project aims to improve the workforce system by integrating public workforce development services with economic development efforts and the efforts of area nonprofits.  Overall, the project encourages rural leaders to take ownership of workforce challenges and team up with others locally to tackle the unique needs of their communities.

In the first cycle of grants, 576 participants earned credentials, 322 obtained a job, and six started a new business or procured work to sustain their business.  The project evaluation found a measurable increase in collaboration in project counties.  That collaboration led to workforce system improvements (improved access, new training models, better coordination of scarce resources), many of which were sustained after the grants ended.  On October 3, 2011, 33 grant applications were submitted for the second cycle of Community Mobilization grants.  Grant awards will be made in November of 2011.

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