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Report shows Jobs Trust impact

Hundreds served by training programs

Sandra Larson
Sandra Larson
Sandra Larson is a Boston-based freelance journalist covering urban/social issues and policy. VIEW BIO
Report shows Jobs Trust impact
Applicants attend a job fair run by BEST Corp., a Boston nonprofit that trains people for jobs in the hospitality industry. (Photo: Sandra Larson)

Developer “linkage” fees on large-scale commercial developments in Boston have led to job training and higher incomes for city residents in need, according to a new report from the city’s Office of Workforce Development (OWD).

The report documents how the developer-funded Neighborhood Jobs Trust (NJT) in 2015 supported $1 million in training programs for low- and moderate-income residents who face various barriers to employment, including homelessness, CORI issues, lack of college education and English language proficiency.

Author: Sandra LarsonShamia Hicks (right) interviews for a hotel job during a job fair.

Of 336 Bostonians served by NJT-funded programs in 2015, 78 percent were black or Latino; 81 percent lacked post-high-school education; and more than half came from the Roxbury, Mattapan or Dorchester neighborhoods. For the 79 percent who have landed jobs so far, the overall average hourly wage is $14.90 per hour — with some jobs paying more than $20 per hour — and 83 percent of the jobs offer employer-provided benefits such as health insurance.

“Our goal is to get people jobs, and good paying jobs,” said Vroselyn Benjamin, program and special initiatives coordinator at OWD, which stewards NJT fund disbursement. “Our main mission is to get them into career pathways with living wages and benefits.”

The city of Boston’s living wage definition rose in mid-2015 to $14.11 from $13.89 per hour, while the Massachusetts minimum hourly wage rose from $9 in 2015 to $10 this year.

NJT-supported training covers a wide range of industries, including health care, hospitality, retail, construction, facilities management, banking and early education.

Benjamin said her office looks for programs that target current growth industries and offer a full complement of services to trainees.

“We want to see actual outcomes and job placement: Do they have employer partnerships, do they teach soft skills, do they provide on-the-job training and mock interviews?” she told the Banner. “And we want to see that they have all the different aspects like recruitment, an intake process and case management.”

Pay boost

One of the NJT grantees is BEST Corp., a Boston nonprofit providing training in hospitality industry skills such as hotel housekeeping, banquet serving and culinary work.

While some of BEST’s programs focus on the needs of immigrants, including English language skills, its Mel King Empowerment Program serves low-income native-born Boston residents. The hospitality training covers “soft” job skills like professionalism and conflict resolution, “hard” skills including computer skills, and career coaching that includes job shadowing at local hotels. All of this adds up to readiness for hotel jobs that bring decent pay and Local 26 union benefits.

“I came through the door at $19.36 an hour,” said Michael Watson, 45, of Dorchester, who started in January at Park Plaza Hotel as a night houseman in the housekeeping department shortly after finishing BEST training. His wage has since been raised to $20.28, with a benefits package worth an additional $9.54 an hour.

“This is a lifetime job,” Watson said. “I have dental, health, everything. I’m paying bills and taking care of my family.”

BEST Corp. Executive Director Marie Downey said many trainees have struggled previously at $9-per-hour jobs with no benefits and unpredictable schedules. Landing a job in a unionized hotel can more than double their pay and provide stability and benefits.

“You often hear of hospitality jobs being low-wage, dead-end jobs — but in the hotel industry, they’re really not,” said Downey, “so it’s exciting.”

On the web

Neighborhood Jobs Trust Impact Report: http://bit.ly/2akOJq5)

Mayor’s Office of Workforce Development: http://owd.boston.gov

Mel King Empowerment Program at BEST Corp.: www.hoteltrainingcenter.org/

Opportunities

At BEST’s Chinatown office in July, recent training graduates in business attire filed into a large classroom doubling as a job fair site. Armed with resume, smile and firm handshake, applicants fanned out to approach representatives from four Boston hotels.

“What did you like best about the training?” asked one interviewer. “Tell us a little about yourself,” another prompted.

Shamia Hicks, 29, of Dorchester, made the rounds and was pleased to hear of several appealing possibilities, including sales management, customer service and a seasonal role related to the popular rooftop pool of the Colonnade Hotel, where she had done her job shadowing.

With prior experience as a film festival coordinator, Hicks seeks more stable fulltime work. She described the five-week training program as rigorous and useful.

“It was definitely good all-around training,” she said. “We know what to expect now. I feel very confident.”

Linkage

Linkage fees are paid by developers of Boston commercial projects larger than 100,000 square feet. In place since 1987, the fee is intended to spur benefits for local residents who may be affected by new development. As development has increased in recent years, the linkage fund has swelled — from $695,000 in 2011 to about $2.7 million in 2015, according to Benjamin — and growth is expected to continue.

OWD Director Trinh Nguyen noted that besides job training, the NJT disbursement has a growing educational focus, including the city’s new tuition-free community college initiative.

“You see the glass towers going up, and our kids will go to school for free,” said Nguyen. “We really need to provide pathways and options that are not conventional. At the end of the day we want people to work, but also have options for a career path.”