Massachusetts offers many programs for the under- and unemployed, to get them working and sometimes even running their own business.
BOSTONGLOBE.com – CAREER CHANGE HAPPENS more than ever these days: Malden’s Paul Benford-Bruce, nearing retirement age, decided to try a new profession instead. Russian emigre Olga Mulugeta found opportunities in health services. Josue Jerez wanted to re-imagine his computer repair business as a service to his Lawrence community. They all got a fresh start thanks to private and public efforts that fund job training in Massachusetts.
Shifts in Greater Boston’s economy spotlight retraining efforts that connect “unemployed and underemployed people with actual job opportunities,” says Mark Melnik, director of economic and public policy research at the UMass Donahue Institute. “This is a point of emphasis with the Baker administration,” he says. In January, Governor Charlie Baker earmarked $5 million for job-training initiatives to develop more skilled labor for Massachusetts employers.
It’s the latest in a series of moves to fund job training in the Commonwealth, particularly in Boston. Some of Baker’s earmark will go to the Workforce Competitiveness Trust Fund, established in 2006. Three years before, in 2003, the Boston Foundation and the City of Boston created the funder collaborative SkillWorks, a $25 million public/private partnership to help low-income, low-skilled adults.
Among SkillWorks’s grant recipients are the Asian American Civic Association (AACA), Jewish Vocational Services (JVS), and Operation A.B.L.E., all of which train people from a variety of backgrounds in industry-relevant skills. These organizations are producing good results: Three-quarters of previously unemployed participants who finish their programs find work.
JVS helped Mulugeta’s husband bring her and their then-4-year-old son to Boston, and helped Olga learn English. JVS, whose services are free for job seekers, also helped her find a job as a home health care provider for Russian-speaking seniors.
She then completed a JVS program that trained certified nurse assistants and was placed at her current employer, Hebrew Rehabilitation Center. Most recently, JVS and the center helped the family become US citizens. “I’m a regular customer” at JVS, says Mulugeta.
The 46-year-old is now looking into a JVS program called Bridges to College. “I still have a dream to be a registered nurse,” she says. “Hopefully, I will start next year when my kids will be a little bit older.”
For Sudha Bhandari, it was the AACA that helped out when she moved from Nepal to Massachusetts in 2013. Bhandari had worked in the Nepali banking industry for 5½ years, but found “banking is a little different here. It’s about sales and customer service.” And her English skills did not match her job experience. The AACA offers a Careers in Banking and Finance program, and Bhandari qualified for association funding to cover the $6,300 cost.
She learned computer skills and business English, and in July 2015 was hired as a head teller at a TD Bank branch in Cambridge, where the 30-year-old lives. “I’m doing very good,” she says, then gives a nervous laugh. “Everybody tells me that, so I can say it.”
It’s not just immigrants who benefit from job training programs. “You do see instances, too, of older workers doing what are called ‘encore’ careers or making a significant career change later in life,” says Melnik. That’s Benford-Bruce’s story. The Massachusetts native spent 23 years at New England Telephone and its follow-ons, mostly as a manager, until he took a buyout in 2003. In 2005, he went into acting, including working with Alan Alda on the PBS documentary Brains on Trial.
Paul Benford-Bruce retrained at an Operation A.B.L.E. program for workers 45 and older and is now a coordinator at Boston Children’s Hospital. But after seven years, he says, “I got a little antsy with the acting. I wanted to get back out there and see what I can do.” He didn’t know where to start until he came across Operation A.B.L.E., which provides job training and employment services for people 45 and older.
In 2012, Benford-Bruce, who is in his 60s, enrolled in the Skills2Work program, which focuses on customer service and computer skills. After he finished, Operation A.B.L.E. helped him get a job as an administrative assistant in a laboratory at Boston Children’s Hospital; he’s now an administrative coordinator. “I wanted to go back and be productive,” he says, “but I needed some kind of vehicle to get me there, and that’s what A.B.L.E. was.”
PEOPLE REBOOTING CAREERS in the Boston area face one set of issues, those in cities like Lowell and Lawrence another. The less vibrant economies in these mid-size cities mean a lack of investment capital and fewer jobs. Enter Gururaj “Desh” Deshpande, entrepreneur-turned-venture capitalist and the man behind the Deshpande Foundation.
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