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Workforce development to focus on underserved communities, local officials say

Adrian Florez

The high-paying jobs in the Puget Sound region can seem out of reach for a lot of people. Officials from King County and the City of Seattle say they want job training to benefit people who have been left behind as the local economy has grown.

The county and the city receive federal dollars for workforce programs that they then pass on to the Workforce Development Council of Seattle-King County.

County and city officials say the council will now prioritize serving people who face the biggest barriers to employment, including people who have served time in prison, people experiencing homelessness, and immigrants and refugees.

“The designation of those groups was based on looking at current data of who’s being served by workforce programs and who’s not and how that matches up with the representation of people who are unemployed,” said Paige Shevlin, an economic development policy adviser for King County Executive Dow Constantine.

About $2.7 million is being awarded to community groups to help connect people with employment. Most of that is from the federal government, and more than $800,000 is from King County’s Veterans, Seniors and Human Services levy.

Employers are contributing funding, as well. Kaiser Permanente has made a $350,000 grant to the Workforce Development Council to help establish an apprenticeship program for low-income youth ages 16 to 24, in particular focusing on young people who are not in school or working.

“These are youth who have dealt with many life experiences and the unimaginable and have faced repeated barriers,” said Jiquanda Nelson, senior manager of Kaiser Permanente Washington’s equity, inclusion, diversity and workforce development team. “We want to tap into the potential that they have and lift them up.”

Kaiser Permanente will offer apprenticeships to young people who want to go into health care, for example, to become a medical assistant. Nelson said other apprenticeships will focus on fields such as manufacturing and culinary jobs.

In July 2017, Ashley Gross became KNKX's youth and education reporter after years of covering the business and labor beat. She joined the station in May 2012 and previously worked five years at WBEZ in Chicago, where she reported on business and the economy. Her work telling the human side of the mortgage crisis garnered awards from the Illinois Associated Press and the Chicago Headline Club. She's also reported for the Alaska Public Radio Network in Anchorage and for Bloomberg News in San Francisco.