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ARPA-funded ‘Skills for Life’ program to pay up to 2200 Detroiters to learn new job skills, beautify neighborhoods


ARPA-funded ‘Skills for Life’ program to pay up to 2200 Detroiters to learn new job skills, beautify neighborhoods

  • Mayor announces 2nd major ARPA funded program since Council approved funding July 27
  • Up to $75M will blend on-the-job experience with training and education over 3 years
  • Participants will earn a living wage while cleaning up neighborhoods and commercial corridors
  • Program also provides ongoing support, such as career coaching, childcare, transportation and job placement assistance through Detroit at Work.

DETROIT, Michigan – Mayor Mike Duggan today launched Skills for Life, a work/training program designed to pay up to 2,200 Detroiters to learn new job skills and remove educational barriers to employment as they work to make physical improvements to Detroit’s neighborhoods, such as cleaning parks and removing graffiti, trash and overgrowth from the city’s commercial corridors.

The new three-year initiative, which will invest up to $75 million to improve the economic mobility of Detroiters, is the first workforce program to be funded through the city’s allocation of American Rescue Act funds. In October, the city launched the $30 million Renew Detroit program, which will help 1,500 Detroit seniors with critically needed home repairs, including roof replacements. Similar to Renew Detroit, Skills for Life comes as a result of an extensive round of community engagement meetings to identify ARPA spending priorities, and City Council approval.

Through Skills for Life, participating Detroiters will split their time between training and performing work to improve Detroit neighborhoods, such as cleaning up commercial corridors and blighted properties. The first 1200 participants will work for the city’s General Services Department and the remaining 1,000 positions will be with other city departments with similar workforce needs.

“Skills for Life builds on programs we already have in place and will be a major piece of our strategy to reduce intergenerational poverty in our city,” said Mayor Duggan. “Not only will participants get paid a living wage to learn new skills, get practical on-the-job experience and earn their GED or diploma, they will be contributing significantly to the beautification of our city.”

With those skills and qualifications under their belts, Detroit at Work will then help them to target long-term, well-paying career paths that give them access to the middle class, Duggan added.

Workforce Training, plus neighborhood improvements

Up to $75 million ARPA funds approved by City Council will be used to pay for the various training programs, as well as to pay participants whether they are working or receiving training or education. A portion of funds to be spent on Skills for Life will be used to purchase the equipment participants will need to do their work in neighborhoods, as well as for related expenses, such as disposal of debris removed from city neighborhoods.

Aside from the 2,200 Detroiters that will gain training, practical job skills, and pay, Skills for Life will produce significant physical improvements in neighborhoods across the city, including: • 7,000 commercial corridor properties cleaned • 1500 commercial corridor properties painted • 5,000 trees along commercial corridors trimmed • 100 parks cleaned more frequently

“One of the things we hear most from residents is that we need to do more to address the cleanliness of our city, particularly our parks and commercial corridors,” said Group Executive for Services and Infrastructure, Brad Dick. “Skills for Life gives us the opportunity to hire, train and pay Detroiters to do much of this work. Many of them will learn to operate the types of equipment that provide them good-paying work and job opportunities for years to come.”

How 'Skills for Life' Works

Program participants will work three days a week with the City of Detroit’s General Services Department, undertaking work focused on blight remediation, grounds maintenance and other city-beautification activities. The other two days a week, participants will participate in vocational training or studying to complete high-school diplomas or GEDs, as appropriate.

The paid training they receive may range from completing work to earn their GED or high school diploma, earning a commercial drivers license, or learning to operate other equipment needed to do this work.

Each participant’s time in the program will vary depending on which discipline they are being trained for, although the hope is that participants will stay in the program for up to a year to maximize the training employment opportunities available. Commercial Drivers License training, for example, runs approximately four months before the participant will test with the State of Michigan to receive their CDL-A license and qualify to be hired as a truck driver.

“There is no industry more in-demand right now than skilled trades – both at a local and a national level,” Dick said. “Skills for Life participants are going to be offered training in skilled and other trades along with IT and other highly in-demand careers. Learning the skills and getting the experience and qualifications that employers in this sector look for, all while providing a service that is critical to our city right now.”

Assistance with childcare, transportation offered

Studies and community feedback have also shown that barriers such as transportation and childcare also play a key role in limiting many Detroiters from pursuing career opportunities and economic self-sufficiency.

“Some Detroiters know that these careers are available but we need every Detroiter to spread the word. For many Detroiters, these good-paying entry-level jobs and careers have been just out of reach due to either lack of a high-school diploma, or because reliable childcare or transportation to job sites haven’t been available” said Nicole Sherard-Freeman, Group Executive for Jobs, Economy, and Detroit at Work. “The Skills for Life program is designed to address those barriers, giving residents the opportunity to access middle-class career pathways with skills and qualifications that are in demand. More importantly, residents who take advantage of these opportunities will build skills they can take with them into careers that include good-paying, middle-class union jobs.”

A pilot program underway since Q3 2021 has shown the value of blending real-life work experience with paid training or educational attainment and barrier removal.

“I’ve been working with General Services since last year, since when I’ve been promoted to Crew Foreman, but this pilot has provided me with still greater opportunity,” said Elisha Hines-Jones, a participant in the ongoing Skills for Life pilot. “I’ve learned operating a heavy-duty trailer tractor (18 wheeler), financial literacy, and strength building Math/ English comprehension, and I’m telling all my friends about Skills for Life – it’s a game-changer.”

How to apply

Applying for Skills for Life is a simple three-step process for Detroit residents 1. Visit the Detroit at Work website at detroitatwork.com and click the ‘Skills for Life’ banner. 2. Click on “Sign Up Now” and follow the instructions 3. Once you’ve completed the application, you will be contacted within 72 hours to begin the enrollment process.

Any workforce or training organizations looking to partner with the Skills for Life program are invited to review Request for Proposals opportunities on the Detroit Employment Solutions website at descmiworks.com.