Post-riot grant for Baltimore job training starts to be distributed

Grant distribution for job training starts: "What the unrest highlighted is we've got to do better."

The first wave of awards from a $5 million federal grant Baltimore received after the April riots is set to be approved by the city's spending board this week.

Contracts with eight job training organizations worth a total of about $1.7 million are set to go the Board of Estimates Wednesday. Another four awards are expected in the coming weeks for a total of about $2.6 million targeting training for at least 700 people.

Officials looked for ties to community organizations and employers when making the awards, based on conversations after the riots in which people said they felt disconnected from the opportunities available, said Jason Perkins-Cohen, director of the mayor's office of employment development.

"What the unrest highlighted is we've got to do better," Perkins-Cohen said. "It's not that our residents didn't know of any services that were available, it's that the connections weren't strong enough to meet the full array of needs."

Grant recipients are expected to work together to recruit participants and share best practices. Other money from the grant is slated to go to groups providing services, such as legal aid and mental health counseling, to support those enrolled in the programs.

Perkins-Cohen said the goal is to create a "more fully-formed workforce system" that connects the out-of-work with the jobs and help they need.

The job training programs focus on construction, health care, manufacturing and transportation and logistics — fields in which officials said there is demand for credentialed workers to fill entry-level openings. Recipients include Associated Catholic Charities, Humanim and Job Opportunities Task Force. (Perkins-Cohen, JOTF's former executive director, said he did not review its proposal.)

A $125,000 award to auto technician training at Vehicles for Change, will go to pay trainees' $8.50-an-hour stipend, allowing the program to grow from 30 to 40 people a year to at least 65, said President Martin Schwartz. The group started offering auto technician training in May and seven of eight people in the first cohort have already gotten jobs, he said.

"This is totally employer driven," Schwartz said. "There's huge demand out there."

The city received 32 responses to the request for proposals issued in July, some from more than one organization, MOED spokesman Brice Freeman said. The program is focused on people ages 16 to 29, with no or little employment history, a criminal record and no advanced education.

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