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  Richmond Job Training Back on Track
May 31, 2005

According to the East Bay Business Times, Richmond’s Employment and Training Department, which is advised by an organization called the Workforce Investment Board made up of volunteers appointed by the Mayor, is lean and mean. This is good news, but of you are looking for more details on the City’s website, don’t bother. The only information available is a message “Launch date December 2003” and an erroneous email address for Director Sal Vaca.

East Bay Business Times

From the May 27, 2005 print edition

Troubled Richmond job board rebounds

David Goll

With a revitalized summer youth jobs program about to be launched next month, things are looking up for Richmond's Workforce Investment Board.

It's a stark contrast from the worst days of the city's 2003-2004 budget crisis, when the board was hit with a double whammy. Not only were some city employees who worked on the job development program facing layoffs because of Richmond's $35 million shortfall, but many businesses on its board of directors were jumping ship.

"Seventeen businesses left the board as a direct result of their concerns over the city budget deficit and direction of our department," said Sal Vaca, director of the city's Employment and Training Department, which oversees the work force board. "They were nervous about being involved with the city because of the financial problems. It was a very difficult time."

The tough times spawned a rebirth. It started more than a year ago, when Vaca and remaining board members regrouped.

"Previously, we'd had significant growth in the program without really strategizing how it affected our core mission," he said. "We needed to manage our growth and, as new dollars came in, we needed to see how we could handle new programs with existing personnel."

Gayla DiMaggio, medical group administrator of the Kaiser Permanente Richmond Medical Center who took over leadership of the board of directors after the mass defection, said the board members sat down and did a lot of soul searching. She agreed with Vaca that the program had previously "gotten out of hand," with staff being added just about every time the city landed a new grant.

"We talked about the issues and perceptions, what was working well and what wasn't," DiMaggio said. "We really wanted to turn this program around and bring it back so a genuine effort was made to bring about change, cut costs and run effective programs. And we wanted our board members to return."

In a city that has had more than its share of social and economic challenges, it was essential for businesses, community organizations, the West Contra Costa Unified School District and others to stick together, DiMaggio said.

"We've got to partner, to leverage each other's strengths," she said, adding, that as part of the board's cost-cutting efforts, officials are looking at organizations that have existing programs and facilities that can help out the Workforce Investment Board's target population.

Although the program is a leaner operation today, the board of directors is happily bulging at the seams. All 31 seats are filled once more, including the return of representatives from Chevron Corp., PG&E Corp. and Berlex Inc., which makes medicines. New board members include United Parcel Service Inc., Vertigo Software Inc. and AC Transit. The board also includes representatives from employee unions, education and other public agencies.

"The board has never been stronger," DiMaggio said. "We really have turned this around."

One of its recent successes has been raising about $200,000 from public and private sources to revive the city's summer employment program. Over a period of six weeks this summer, 200 young people between 14 and 19 will be paid to work at private businesses and public agencies throughout the city.

"We are already making inroads," Vaca said. "We want to make this program even larger next summer."

The summer youth employment effort, along with year-round outreach to adult victims of corporate downsizing or trying to get off welfare, make the Workforce Investment Board a unique program. Richmond is the only city in Contra Costa County to have its own work force investment program, independent of the Workforce Development Board that serves the rest of the county. The city even runs a program to find transitional housing for 18-year-olds leaving foster care homes.

These programs address but may not resolve all of the problems of Richmond's 100,000 residents, who continue to struggle with chronically high rates of unemployment. Although the city has such affluent districts as Point Richmond and the Richmond hills, as well as the blossoming waterfront around the Richmond Marina, other neighborhoods have to contend with higher rates of street crime and poverty.

"Our unemployment rate stands at 7.9 percent, which is twice as high as the county as a whole and higher than state or national averages," Vaca said. "(Unemployment) has been a problem in parts of our community for many years."

dgoll@bizjournals.com | 925-598-1436