Good paying jobs give people the opportunity to support themselves and their families while creating economic stability and growth not only in their own households, but throughout the region.
In King County, roughly 215,000 working adults are living in households with incomes that are 200 percent below the poverty line. They are trapped in low-paying jobs with wages that barely cover the basic costs of living or raising a family. Despite their best efforts, many of these working poor face barriers that make them unable to lift themselves—and their children—out of poverty. And yet, at the same time, our region’s employers say they often struggle to find qualified workers—a fact that puts our region’s long-term economic prosperity at risk.
Research by the Washington State Board for Community & Technical Colleges shows that an individual who earns a college degree or certificate greatly increases her economic status and that education is the single most important predictor of intergenerational mobility. Now, and in the future, the majority of jobs that can support a family require some postsecondary preparation. So before low-income adult workers can qualify for those jobs and provide employers with needed talent, those workers will need access to additional education and training. By building skills in the adult workforce, we can strengthen our region’s economy and ensure that King County employers have qualified workers.
For philanthropy, training and education for adult workers is a critical investment underscored by shifts in technology, global competition for skilled workers and the aging workforce. By funding nonprofit organizations, community colleges and technical education programs, donors help provide a continuum of education and training that starts with basic skills.
Some organizations are working to develop programs that accommodate the lives of working adults and put them on a path into emerging fields with high demand for trained workers. These schools and organizations also use their relationships with industry and employers to make sure students get training that matches employers’ needs. Seattle Jobs Initiative partners with other organizations, community colleges and employers to link low-income and low-skilled residents to jobs that pay living wages and offer room for advancement.
Low-income workers who want to advance their education and careers also face economic hurdles in the auxiliary costs for services such as childcare, housing and transportation, which can increase the total cost of education. To prevent these expenses from blocking the path to economic self-sufficiency, donors can fund social service agencies that provide these services in partnership with education and training organizations.
Hopelink in eastern King County, for instance, has teamed with Bellevue College to provide “wrap-around” support services for low-income students. Students already enrolled in BC’s Opportunity Grants program may receive help with expenses beyond the cost of tuition and books. A nursing student may get help with bus fare to campus, for example; someone learning to write computer code may receive assistance with the costs of housing or energy.
Because workers want training for higher-paying industries that are ready to hire, donors can also fund intermediary organizations that enrich education programs and ensure that jobs are waiting for new trainees. These organizations broker partnerships between local industry and schools, and some of the most innovative programs deliver training on-site in work-based learning environments—allowing students to learn and earn concurrently.
The Health Workforce Institute, for instance, works with hospitals to develop career pathways to help move low-skilled workers into higher-skilled, high-paying jobs. The Institute addresses looming shortages in healthcare personnel by partnering with industry and healthcare training programs to make training more accessible for low-skilled workers.
By funding worker education programs, along with the ancillary services that make them viable for working adults, donors can help more people fulfill their potential. And that benefits not only the individuals aiming to land living wage jobs, but also our region’s economic strength.
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