A Sustainable Workforce Starts With You

Neighborhood Centers Launches Huge Workforce Initiative in Houston

One of the organizations we’re proud to partner with at Construction Citizen is Neighborhood Centers in Houston, where they’ve now officially launched a new workforce initiative aimed at helping 1,000 people find living wage, middle-skill jobs. Those are good-paying careers that require more than a high school diploma or its equivalent but less than a four-year degree.

The initiative, called ASPIRE, is already connecting people with various training programs. Some of those programs include a cost for the student but others don't cost anything for the individual. Many of the applicants so far are making around $13 to $15 per hour with the goal of transitioning to around $21 per hour.

The official kickoff was last Wednesday when JPMorgan Chase President and CEO Jamie Dimon visited Houston to present Neighborhood Centers with a check for $1 million. The contribution is part of a $5 million commitment by the company to help close the skills gap in the area. The bank has committed to $250 million globally for this purpose.

In making the donation, Dimon said his travels around the country recently have taught him that different cities have very different needs when it comes to workforce development. Dimon said the thing that impressed him most about Houston is that everyone seems to step up and work together to get things done.

“You’re the ones who are going to make a huge difference,” Dimon said during brief remarks in which he also spoke about a young man who recently became gainfully employed for the first time in his life. “He said ‘I never thought I could take care of my parents,’” Dimon said. “That stuck in my mind.”

Before Dimon spoke, Vaughn Construction CEO Tom Vaughn told the crowd that his company is pleased to be part of ASPIRE. Vaughn’s father, Joe Vaughn, began working in construction at the age of 12 as a laborer and eventually worked his way up through the trades to become head of his own large company. Because of what he called a “builder’s spirit,” Vaughn said his firm puts the emphasis on the worker and what they do in the field. “It makes us successful,” he said.

The pressure to recruit and sustain a quality workforce is perhaps greater than ever, Vaughn said, and added that ASPIRE “really matches our goals and values.” Noting his company has its own training program that puts unskilled folks to work fairly quickly, Vaughn said “our industry as a whole just depends on it. We can’t live without it.”

Neighborhood Centers President and CEO Angela Blanchard said with a smile that it's not every day the organization has the chance to “accept a gift like this for exactly what’s needed in this city.”

“It’s a pretty cool day, right?” she said.

Blanchard quoted Alice Graham Baker, founder of the organization, in saying “Every person in this city ought to have access to health, to education, and to work with dignity.”

Part of the philosophy of Neighborhood Centers is that a city’s success shouldn’t be judged based on whether it’s walkable or whether it’s home to great museums. “The measure of a great city is whether you can come here and start with nothing and have a life different than the one you were born into,” she said.

Poverty and inequality are harming families all over America, Blanchard said. “I care not how many poor people there are. I care whether there’s somewhere for them to go,” she said. The jobs people will have access to through ASPIRE are “jobs that really say to the people who are working and their children there is a reason to keep thinking about the future.”

Houston is a city of immigrants, Blanchard said, which is why “we don’t share a past here. We share a future.”