Detroit Jobs Alliance says it will streamline services for city’s vast number of unemployed and underemployed citizens

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By David Muller |

Dozens of people met at the Detroit Historical Museum in Midtown Detroit Tuesday morning and discussed the paralyzing joblessness that lies outside of Midtown or Downtown, while launching the Detroit Jobs Alliance.

“The folks out on the east side, they don’t know who Dan Gilbert is,” said Detroit Employment Solutions Corporation President and CEO Pamela Moore, referring to the founder of Quicken Loans and one of the foremost developers of downtown Detroit.

The Detroit Jobs Alliance is essentially 76 different municipal, private and non-profit organizations with the common goal of bringing more work to a city that has an 18 percent unemployment rate, though that rate “is at least double that” when factoring in the people who have given up on looking for work, Moore said.

Using words such as “coalition” and “partnership” to describe itself, the DJA’s ultimate goal is apparently to prevent doubling up work between all of the organizations under its umbrella, while also pooling resources. Doing so, said Detroit Regional Workforce Fund Director Karen Tyler-Ruiz, will help boost the local workforce’s skills and create jobs.

Some numbers were assigned to the daunting task that lies ahead for improving the city, region and state unemployment epidemic.

Kendra Howard, the community engagement director for the DJA, said middle-skill jobs, or those that require higher than a high school diploma but lower than a four-year college degree – make up 51 percent of jobs in the state. She pointed to several new developments in Detroit, such as the New International Trade Crossing and a Detroit Red Wings Arena and Entertainment District as job creators that are in the pipeline and could be filled by Detroiters of a variety of skill levels.

Those two developments, along with a newly-established Regional Transit Authority, the M1 Rail project, and upgrades to Eastern Market could help add 25,789 jobs to the Detroit area (including construction work), said Harvey Hollins III, the director of Michigan’s Office of Urban and Metropolitan Initiatives.

Hollins said that as of 2011, underemployment in Detroit in 2011 was 49.1 percent. “You can throw a dart and hit one of two people who are out of work,” he said.

Hollins showed a slide that had and upside down “T” marking the Woodward Corridor and part of downtown, with a relatively small red circle surrounding it. The area in red, he noted, is already seeing intense development and should only continue to enjoy such activity in the next five to 10 years.

“I would never want a workforce development center down here. That (development) is going to happen,” he said, adding that people in the outlying neighborhoods of Detroit already lack access to decent transportation, and will have trouble coming to an office downtown.

The DJA maintains an office in the Fisher Building and in Ann Arbor but says its focus in on the entire region.

Though it formally announced its formation Tuesday, the DJA has been operating for about 18 months. As a proven success, DJA organizers pointed to Detroit Manufacturing Systems, which went from zero to 500 employees in less than a year, in part by using DJA’s job training partners as a resource, the organization said.

The alliance is currently funded by $450,000 from the DRWF. To date, the DRWF has received more than $5.6 million in funds from 13 national and local, public and private investors.

Michael Brennan, president and CEO of United Way for Southeastern Michigan, and a member of the DJA steering committee, said he recently saw more than 54,000 Michigan jobs posted online. The listings included jobs such as welders, analysts, and dentists. Brennan said the bottom line for Detroit’s economy is to give people more skills so that they can pursue these positions.

“We’re at ground zero in America on this job transformation,” he said, referring to the monumental shift of the American economy away from industrial work. “Our job is not to tweak this issue, it’s to solve this issue.”

Brennan, too, said the DJA’s focus going forward should be on the city’s far-flung neighborhoods as well as on the Woodward Corridor.

He said the hope was that the 40,000 children being born this year would have a better opportunities when they become the graduating class of 2030.

“It is definitely the key social justice issue of our time,” he said.

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Seneca has worked with the Detroit Jobs Alliance since 2016.

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