Earlier this month, the Northwest Pennsylvania Workforce Investment Board received a $3 million federal grant to use towards job training in the Erie region.
The WIB, which serves Erie, Clarion, Crawford, Forest, Venango and Warren counties, will utilize the money to find and implement the most effective job training strategies. They will be working with the Greater Erie Community Action Committee (GECAC) to help job seekers prepare to fill positions in local businesses.
GECAC will work with workers, employers and Northwestern Pennsylvania CareerLink offices, which connect workers and employers on the local level by offering materials, consultation services and employment databases.
The grant is part of a larger $50.7 million grant from the federal Workforce Innovation Fund within the U.S. Department of Labor.
According to U.S. Secretary of Labor Thomas E. Perez in the U.S. Department of Labor news release for the grant, jobs training will be focused on “ready-to-work Americans” for “ready-to-be-filled-jobs.”
This job training opportunity has the potential to boost Erie region’s communities in areas such as poverty reduction if it is implemented strategically.
“The training would need to be focused on building skills for jobs that there will be a demand for, and that pay wages that are high enough to result in family incomes moving above the poverty threshold,” said Dr. Laura Lewis, professor of sociology and social work.
Its impact on crime is also a possibility, although not as likely, according to Peter Benekos, PH.D., professor of criminal justice.
“The results are not too encouraging,” said Benekos on whether employment generally has an effect on crime in a community. “There have been some encouraging programs with older offenders. With young, at-risk kids, they’re generally not as motivated and that makes it harder for completing employment.”
For persons looking to enter the workforce as a way to turn their lives around, motivation is key, he said.
“Workers seeking these programs are going to be more successful if they’re motivated. It has to be an intrinsic motivation,” said Benekos. “This is a turning point in their lives. They accept the responsibility of the job training,”
Benekos believes that eligibility for job training programs will play a large role in determining how successful the programs will be at alleviating crime and creating positive impact overall in the region.
If programs are effective, both workers and employers can benefit from them.
“The general rule of thumb is to meet the individual needs of the employers and the workers. There has to be a match,” said Benekos. “The biggest return for investment would be the people who have assimilated into a work ethic, have some job experience, skills and market force.”