construction on. a home
Construction workers were photographed on a housing development job site near Detroit’s Brush Park neighborhood on June 29, 2022 in Detroit, Mich. (BridgeDetroit Photo by Malachi Barrett)

The city is expanding job certification programs and hiring opportunities in more departments as it seeks to bring on 2,200 Detroiters in three years through a federally-funded work training initiative. 

Representatives of Detroit At Work, the city’s career development agency, said during a Tuesday presentation to Detroit’s City Council that the first year of Detroit’s $75 million Skills for Life program shows signs of success with the hiring of 176 Detroiters, including 95 individuals recently released from jail or prison, and 20 workers with disabilities. However, city officials and council members stressed there’s more work to be done to meet the goal of employing 2,200.

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Nicole Sherard-Freeman, the city’s executive director of workforce development, said hiring more Detroiters will require more equipment and expanded training programs.

When it unveiled the program in December, the city announced the first 1,200 participants would work for the city’s General Services Department and the remaining 1,000 positions would be within other city departments. Sherard-Freeman said Tuesday that the city’s Water and Sewerage Department, Public Works Department and the Department of Transportation, also have expressed interest in participating in Skills for Life. 

Temporary employment through the program lasts up to a year for individual participants and includes opportunities for vocational training or earning a GED. The program’s goal is to transition participants to long-term employment through Detroit at Work. It also offers transportation assistance, including bus passes, gas vouchers and ride-sharing subsidies. 

Sherard-Freeman said focus group sessions with applicants and community partners found demand for more occupational training options, particularly commercial drivers and healthcare positions. 

The city hopes to offer 10 additional training programs this fall, including for CDL-B commercial drivers licenses and positions in healthcare, construction and information technology industries. 

“What was different for them about this program was the opportunity to upgrade their skills, learn something new, perhaps complete their education and really move toward advancing toward a middle-income career,” Sherard-Freeman said. “This program is about more than just work, even though they’re very proud to be employed by the City of Detroit. It’s about helping Detroit residents, enabling them to change their future.”

Federal American Rescue Plan Act funds must be allocated by Dec. 31, 2024, and spent by the end of 2026, otherwise they are subject to go back to the federal government. 

Sherard-Freeman said the city is committed to fully spending the federal aid by the deadline. 

“We have no intention to ever give back a single dollar,” Sherard-Freeman said. 

Skills for Life program participants earn $15 per hour to work three days a week with city crews on blight remediation and grounds maintenance. Two other days each week, they participate in vocational training or study to complete a high school diploma or GED. There is no age limit to apply. 

The city sent job offers to 355 Detroiters so far, with 279 people accepting positions and 176 are employed. Another 25 were transferred to another position in the city, and six were promoted to jobs earning $17 per hour or more in the General Services Department, officials said. Tuesday’s presentation showed 11 people are expected to start a Skills for Life position within two weeks, while 65 people declined a city job offer and 72 others accepted positions but they are no longer employed.

Skills for Life has seen a higher number of participants who live in City Council District 7 and District 2, located on Detroit’s west side, with 47 and 45 participants, respectively. With only seven individuals, southwest Detroit’s District 6 had the lowest participation rate. Efforts will be ramped up there to encourage more residents to apply, officials said. 

There are 55 participants enrolled in vocational training programs and 71 people in education skills training. The city offers occupational training for CDL-A drivers, electrical technicians, heavy equipment operators and masonry restoration work. Education training is also offered to prepare Detroiters to receive GEDs, learn English and gain other skills. 

Training costs an average of $5,000 per person, according to the city. Sherard-Freeman said administrative costs associated with job training are increasing. The city is trying to keep costs “reasonable,” she said, but “if we want the quality of what we’re providing to Detroiters to increase, it’s probably going to cost us more.”

Council Member Fred Durhal III, who represents District 7, praised the program for being available to returning citizens who face steep barriers to employment after serving their sentence. 

“I look forward to growing, particularly as we talk about targeting our at-risk youth here in an era where we talk about gun violence,” Durhal said. “Folks want to talk about addressing the systemic issues, and I believe programs like this are such. We can ask folks to put their guns down but if you don’t give them anything to do, what are they going to do?”

Daryl Conrad, the city’s chief recruitment officer, noted that the program is open to people with a criminal record, but the city uses discresion when reviewing applicants with a recent history of violent crimes or sexual misconduct. 

Skills for Life was the second initiative announced by Detroit to be funded with the city’s $826 million allocation of federal pandemic relief aid. A budget breakdown presented Tuesday shows $38.5 million was allocated for employee wages and $36.5 million was dedicated for blight removal contracts and training contracts.

As of Tuesday, the program has resulted in blight remediation at 682 properties, trash pickup at 3,049 locations, and other cleanup work at 841 parks and 81 freeways.

People interested in applying should visit detroitatwork.com/skillsforlife and click “Sign Up Now.” Applicants can expect to hear from the city within 72 hours of beginning the enrollment process. For additional information, call (313) 962-9675.

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