State grant to provide workforce training program for families
With $25 million in state funding, the University of Memphis is weaving together several academic centers and community organizations to benefit some 2,500 West Tennessee families over the next three years through training programs labor and related complementary services.
The U of M received the grant, which it says is the largest in university history, as Tennessee begins spending on a reserve for funds for low-income families. In 2019, the state would have over $730 million in federal funds lapsed.
The state will use $175 million of the current $700 million it has in unused funds from the federal Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program to fund pilot programs to help families in need. The U of M is the only university among seven recipients of the $25 million grants announced last week by Governor Bill Lee and the Tennessee Department of Human Services.
EXPENDITURE RESERVES: Governor Bill Lee announces $175 million in grants as Tennessee begins spending reserves on families in need
FUNDS FOR WORKING FAMILIES:Report: Tennessee has $730 million in unused block grant funds for working poor families
The U of M program is called “Growing Relational and Occupational Wealth in West Tennessee Households” or GROWWTH, for short, and was developed based on information gathered by researchers during interviews with 451 recipients of the TANF in every West Tennessee county.
The project, slated to begin this fall, will provide families in West Tennessee with skills and job training and help overcome barriers such as child care and transportation, said Richard Irwin, executive dean of the ‘U of M and project manager.
Speaking to U of M board members in the spring, Irwin said U of M’s “self, family and child” project would define its proposal to the State.
Professional training academy, mental health supports part of new U of M program
Interviews with families provided “illuminating” data, Irwin said: 94% of those surveyed wanted to work, U of M found, and of those, two-thirds said they needed upskilling. or training. Many also indicated that they needed mental health support.
“There’s such a myth that people…just don’t want to (work). They want to keep getting benefits,” said Irwin, who is dean of U of M Global and the academic innovation. “I’ve been pleasantly surprised to hear people indicating that they want to work…Now we’ve also discovered that there are barriers to that.”
As families told U of M about these barriers to work, like childcare or transportation, employers told U of M a similar story. These challenges shaped much of the curriculum that U of M later developed, Irwin said.
A team of people will canvass West Tennessee for eligible families to qualify for the program. People in care coordinator positions will help determine what people need and which global GROWWTH services they will benefit from the most, Irwin said.
The U of M is working on a vocational training program, which will include three weeks of workforce readiness training and a second stream of vocational training specific to a person’s interests.
Workforce Midsouth among more than a dozen partners
The U of M began working on the project after Kyla Guyette, president of Workforce Mid-South, pitched the idea to Irwin, he said, and the workforce group will continue to be part of the project, as are the Southwest and Northwest Tennessee Workforce Councils.
Tennessee initially whittled down more than 80 RFP respondents to 17 who won planning grants for the proposal. The U of M created GROWWTH with $445,000 in state-awarded planning funds, Irwin said, before ultimately being chosen to carry out the project, which will include the following partner organizations:
- Abyssinian Baptist Church
- US Job Centers
- Economic opportunities
- MICAH (Memphis Interfaith Coalition for Action and Hope)
- Booth for children
- Whole Child Strategies, Inc.
- The organization expert
- Community elevator
The following U de M centers are also involved in the project:
- Professional and Continuing Education Office (PACE)
- Center for Community Research and Evaluation (CEMR)
- Center for Workplace Diversity and Inclusion (CWDI)
- Memphis Institute for Interdisciplinary Partnerships to Advance Community Transformation (iIMPACT)
- Benjamin L. Hooks Institute for Social Change
In a statement, U of M President Bill Hardgrave called the project “a testament to the ability of our university’s departments and partners in our region to work together and create bottom-up economic opportunity for families.” of West Tennessee”.
When Irwin presented the project to the board, Administrator Cato Johnson, a senior Methodist Healthcare executive, praised State Department of Human Services Commissioner Clarence Carter and acknowledged that the TANF surplus that Carter had been charged, when he began in 2021, with expenses.
“They were using the same processes. So people who were on welfare stayed on welfare. Nothing ever changed,” Johnson said.
Johnson called GROWWTH’s proposal a “tremendous project”.
Laura Testino covers education and childhood issues for the trade appeal. Contact her at [email protected] or 901-512-3763. Find her on Twitter: @LDTestino