Posted by Andrea L. Taylor
Director, North America Community Affairs
 
Last week the White House announced the inaugural grants of the Social Innovation Fund (SIF) that included the National Fund for Workforce Solutions (NFWS), as one of 11 award recipients. The two-year, $7.7 million award will fund an expansion of existing training programs in several of 23 NFWS sites and the establishment of 6-8 new sites.
 
Displaced workers in America’s cities are the beneficiaries of the good news here.  The National Fund is already providing sector-based training for adults in cities such as Baltimore, Hartford, New York and Seattle and is developing best practices that can be replicated in other communities.  As an SIF recipient, the National Fund is uniquely positioned to help transform the way we cultivate talent in the U.S., especially for more than 80 million adults who struggle without 21st century skills that  align with today’s new knowledge economy.
 
The other factor to be celebrated here is the power of collaboration around an idea that became the National Fund.  Through this unique partnership that began in 2000, corporate, private and family foundations pooled their resources and expertise with help from an established workforce intermediary, Jobs for the Future, to focus on jobs skills and training. Since its founding, the $23 million investment by nine donors has engaged over 200 local and regional partners and 500 employers to support skills training to prepare for jobs in growth sectors such as health care.
 
In 2009, over 18,000 job seekers and incumbent workers received training and career support, 9,736 participants received degrees or credentials, and 4,058 jobseekers secured jobs as a result of their participation and 81% of those hired are working more than 35 hours per week.
 
Microsoft, one of nine investors in the National Fund, made an $8 million commitment in cash and software to support this collaboration and has been-active along with other donors (including the Hitachi, Wal-Mart, Annie E. Casey,  Prudential and Ford foundations) in  addressing this national issue.   These efforts are closely aligned with our Elevate America skills training program and Microsoft continues to promote community-based training and to provide access to the technology tools that will strengthen the skills needed for displaced and disadvantaged workers to be successful.
 
Public/private partnerships such as the NFWS are more relevant and more important than ever to help identify the best approaches to large scale workforce training needed to address the skills gap that has surfaced during the recent economic downturn. Policymakers are also likely to focus on these issues more intently as the reauthorization of the Workforce Investment Act emerges on the national agenda. As these scenarios unfold, the National Fund may play a key role in building effective models and helping communities to be more competitive.
 
First Lady Michelle Obama described the intent of the Social Innovation Fund this way: “By focusing on high-impact, results-oriented nonprofits, we will ensure that government dollars are spent in a way that is effective, accountable and worthy of public trust.”
 
For now, the investors in the National Fund are celebrating the accomplishments that have resulted in this program expansion and preparing for the hard work and the opportunity to take a giant step forward and ideally engage additional partners on behalf of America’s workers.